Graduation Reflections (or: An Open Letter to Recent Graduates)

Tonight I attended graduation at the school where my wife teaches. I want to say congrats to everyone in the class of 2012, no matter where you are!

During the ceremony as I listened to the speeches by salutatorians and valedictorian, I reflected upon my own graduation. I graduated high school in 1999 so it’s been 12 years since I was in their place. When I had my cap and gown on, these kids were first graders. First, I felt old. Very old. But I also began to realize that I should have listened to those who went before me when they told me things to expect once I hit the real world. As I am now part of the generation that has gone before these guys and gals, I feel that it’s our responsibility to impart advice based on our experiences.

Geez, I sound old again.

So, if I could say anything to those who have graduated tonight or at any point recently, it would be the following:

First, congratulations on reaching this milestone in your lives. Take some time to enjoy this step and to relax a little. Key phrase: A little. You’re in the real world now. No longer will you have people telling you where to go and when to be there. That is now your responsibility.

If you thought high school was tough, it’s nothing compared to college. In high school you had teachers who would take extra time to help you and do whatever they had to do to get you to accept it. Your professors and instructors don’t care why you “had” to miss their class or that you “need” extra time to finish a project. You do the work on their terms or not at all. They don’t care. They also don’t care whether you pass or fail. And if your parents call your instructors to try and take up for you, they’ll probably not give them the time if day (and you’ll likely have hell to pay). You’re an adult now; it’s time for you to handle your business like an adult. And your instructors/professors? They’re there to teach, not to coddle you. Those days are over. Soon you’ll realize how good you had it in high school.

The same goes for your bosses. If you miss too much work, you’ll get fired. Be where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there… but again, remember that this is now your responsibility.

The question is not “if you will fail,” it’s “when.” Regardless of what you may believe, you will experience failure. You will get fired eventually. You won’t do well on probably many tests and papers. There will be times when you won’t be able to pay your bills and you’ll wonder whether or not you’ll be able to afford gas to go to work. With all of this in mind, the real question is “how will you bounce back when you fail.” And don’t fear – you will bounce back.

Don’t be afraid of hard work. Nothing is going to come easily – that’s just the reality. Nothing is handed to you in the real world – you have to work hard and earn it. Hard work is what has made so many before you great. Mark Zuckerburg – one of the founders of Facebook – didn’t become the wealthy man he is by sitting on his duff. In fact, he dropped out of Harvard. However, he worked hard and now he’s reaping the rewards. Wealth may not come as easily to you and in fact it probably won’t come at all, especially to the level of Zuckerberg. However, if you work hard, you will have everything you need and probably a good many things that you want.

Boyfriends and girlfriends will come and go. Don’t worry about experiencing heartbreak because you’re going to. There’s nothing you can do to stop it, it’s going to happen. Don’t fret about a relationship not working out; there are plenty of people out there for you to date. Somewhere there is someone special whom you may marry. Regardless, enjoy the ride and make sure you not only learn about your significant other but also learn about yourself. I learned something about myself in every relationship I ever had. Even though many didn’t end well, I’m still glad to have gone through them because I was able to learn a lesson. Having the same attitude will be good for you too.

Floss. Yes, it’s a pain but do it. Your gums will thank you.

Get a hair cut. Don’t get 20 piercings and 30 tattoos. In the real world, dress codes exist and are enforced. Like it or not, most companies haven’t accepted what you consider fashion. They also don’t care about your need for “self expression.” Keep the “art” to a minimum.

Go easy on the beer and booze. As a paramedic, I could tell you many stories about the consequences of bad decisions made while someone is drunk. Be safe. If you’re going to drink, give up the keys. Don’t become a statistic.

Stay away from illegal drugs. Don’t become addicted to prescription drugs. I know that should go without saying but, again, I could tell you stories about the consequences of addiction. Don’t even toy with it. It’s much easier just to not do it than to overcome it. Again, don’t become a statistic.

Read “Oh, The Places you will Go!” by Dr. Seuss.

Most importantly, keep your faith in Jesus Christ as the number one thing in your life. Yes, more important than any boyfriend or girlfriend, school, a job, anything. Don’t be afraid to respond to His calling should He call you to be a minister, missionary or even to sing in the praise band or choir at church. Listen to the Holy Spirit – He will guide you and let you know if you’re on the right path. Find a translation of the Bible that you can understand and enjoy reading… then read it as much as possible.

There’s much more but you’ll will just learn it from experience. Take advantage of every opportunity to grow. The growing pains aren’t fun but once you experience growth, you’ll be glad you went through it. Also, never stop growing.

I hope I never do.

Jonathan

My Testimony

The following is a testimony that I’ve typed out. At the request of a couple of my Twitter followers (speaking of Twitter, you can find me here), here it is in blog form. God bless!

Many of my earliest memories involve church. From as early as they could, my parents had me in church as much as possible. However, this wasn’t always possible because I spent a large percentage of my childhood in a hospital bed. I can remember many instances where my pastor or the hospital chaplain would visit and pray, where other people would pray and of course my parents would pray. I was told about Jesus at an early age so I have a hard time finding a time where I never believed. Jesus was a part of my life from the beginning.

As I got older and learned more about the faith, I joined my church and became active in the youth group. There were many times where I questioned whether I was really saved or if I was playing church. One evening when I was about 16, my youth group went to a play at a Meridian church. The drama deeply affected me and I wanted to make sure that I wouldn’t spend an eternity in Hell. When the invitation was given, I responded.

Later on I graduated high school and went to college and I did the things that college kids do but I always knew that I was doing wrong and that Jesus expected more of me. However, much to my detriment, I continued down a bad road. Eventually I moved to Indiana and it became even worse, mainly because for the first time in my life I was truly on my own and thought I could do anything I wanted to without consequence. You name it, I did it.

One night when I was about 25 I was laying in bed, having problems sleeping because I kept thinking of all the junk in my life. The Holy Spirit had been working on me for quite some time and that night He made Himself known beyond a shadow of a doubt. I heard a voice say “you can’t keep doing this.” Right then I hit my knees, repented of my sin and rededicated myself and my soul to Jesus Christ. Soon after that I became active in a great church, surrounded myself with strong Christians and I was even re-baptized.

Now that I’m back in Mississippi, here I am: A man who’s still a sinner but who realized the way he was living was wrong, the things I had placed more emphasis on rather than Jesus were wrong and that I was trying to do it all myself. I can’t. No one can. Only Jesus can save us and I thank God that I came to realize that. I married a Godly woman, I am involved in an amazing church and am seeking out God’s will for my life. I’m proud to say that I love Jesus and I want to serve Him in all ways as possible. My road has been a bumpy one but I thank God that I went down it because it helped me learn to rely on Him and that without Him I am nothing.

A Pastor That Leads

Today I heard one of the best sermons I’ve ever heard in any church that I’ve ever had the privilege of worshiping in.

My church – Central United Methodist Church of Meridian, MS – has decided to undertake a very bold and brave experiment in order to find ways to help the church grow. Before I go any further with that, let me just say that my church is very healthy and is growing by leaps and bounds. However, in the years to come, this might not be the case. The reality of any church is that members have a finite lifespan either through things like moving, death, poor health or other factors. In order to ensure that the church continues to grow and is able to sustain a healthy membership in the decades to come, the sooner we begin finding the ways to make that happen the better. The experiment I speak of involves reversing the order of our worship services.

Central has two services on Sunday mornings: A contemporary worship service at 8:30 and a traditional service at 10:55. Each week attendance numbers are published in Central’s newsletter and the early service is a much larger draw (normally over 200 – sometimes close to 300) than the late service (normally less than 200). The Administrative Council voted to try an experiment in which the times for the services will be reversed. The purpose of this is to find out if more people are coming to the contemporary service because of the time and also to find out if having a contemporary service later in the morning may attract even more young people to church who currently are unchurched.

It’s bold and different. I also fully support it.

Our Senior Pastor, Dr. Bob Rambo, spoke today in length about the experiment and how he understood that some people don’t support it because it’s different. Let’s face it: A lot of people don’t like change. A lot of people don’t like the boat being rocked and thus they’re opposed to anything that will shake up their lives especially when it comes to church. However, Bro. Bob reminded us all that we have a mission: To offer Christ to as many people as possible in as many ways as possible and as many times as possible. He acknowledged that change is never easy (and also emphasized that this just a month long experiment, not a permanent change being made at this time) but that it’s necessary in order for the church to continue to grow and be sustained in the future.

A church that doesn’t experiment and try new things is a church that will die. It might not be tomorrow but it will happen eventually.

Bro. Bob related a similar situation that arose while he was serving a congregation in northeastern Mississippi. A large sum of money was left to the church but with the stipulation that the money had to be used to help people, not to be used for the church budget. A committee (we United Methodists love our committees!) determined that a big need in the community was for more daycare services and their recommendation was to use the money to start a daycare service. A faction within the church was opposed and did all it could to derail the decision – including physically threatening Bro. Bob and members of the committee who made the recommendation. By the time it was all said and done, the final decision was made to start the daycare. Many years later Bro. Bob returned to the church to preach at their homecoming and he found a congregation that was vibrant and growing. Many of the new families who came to the church did so because of the daycare. Some of the people who were opposed to the idea sought Bro. Bob out to apologize to him and to let him know that they were wrong.

The congregation that Bro. Bob served had an opportunity to do something bold and many people didn’t like it. However, the experiment worked and the church is still growing today because of the vision for the daycare.

I applaud Bro. Bob for having the forethought and vision to propose this idea. He knows that he won’t be at Central forever (UMC clergy are moved every so often) but he wants the church to survive and thrive long after he’s gone. I also applaud the Administrative Council for being willing to take a risk and try something bold that may very well help to sustain the church long after all of us are gone.

Today Bro. Bob spoke to the congregation about our mission and how sometimes we have to do things that are uncomfortable in order to further the gospel of Christ. While the growing pains may be difficult, it’s well worth it in order to serve Christ and help others see Him. Bro. Bob showed us all what a pastor should be and that’s a leader with vision and the boldness to want us to try new things.

He also showed that a pastor should not only serve the current congregation but also consider those who will come through the doors after his time at the church is done. Not only is he helping us now, he’s seeking to help future members of Central by laying a foundation now.

This, friends, is what a pastor should be doing.

Jonathan

Officer Down: Michael Walters, Pearl (Mississippi) Police Department

ImageThis morning three investigators  – officers with the Pearl Police Department – were attempting to do something they do day in and day out: Serve a warrant. This warrant was for the arrest of a suspect charged with sexual battery of a minor and possession of child porn. The suspect hid in a bathtub and when he was discovered he resisted arrest. One of the officers attempted to use a taser but the suspect had a gun and fired. All three officers were hit – Investigator Walters was hit in the face. All three were transported by EMS to the University of Mississippi Medical Center (a Level I trauma center). Approximately 40 minutes later, Investigator Walters died from his wounds. The other two detectives were listed in “good” condition as of the last time I looked at the various news sites in Jackson.

Anytime a police officer, firefighter or EMS worker is killed in the line of duty, it’s a reminder that we put our lives on the line to serve the public. I particularly hate these situations because it’s a reminder to me that at any point I can get that one call where it all goes wrong and where the end isn’t going to be a good one. I never want my wife to get that visit that tells her that something has happened to me.

If I had my way no one would ever get that visit.

Believe what you want about prison, the death penalty or whatever but these acts are inexcusable. Anyone who kills a firefighter, police officer or EMS worker in the line of duty should at the least be sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. If the DA wants to pursue the death penalty, I say bring it on. People like this suspect are the scum of the earth and should have no right to be among those in civilized society.

Let’s remember this officer, his family, the other two officers who were shot and their families and the Pearl Police Department in our thoughts and prayers. They’re all going through something that no one should ever go through.