Month: May 2012

Podcast: Living in the Power of Pentecost

Pentecost Sunday is the last big Sunday in the liturgical year, but often churches that celebrate Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent and Easter fail to give equal emphasis to Pentecost. Pentecost is the culmination of the Christian Calendar, and has been called the “birthday of the church.” Without Pentecost, the Christian Year is incomplete because it is at Pentecost that Jesus fulfills his promise to send the Holy Spirit to empower, equip, enthuse, and embolden the apostles. It is also on Pentecost that the church launches it mission of taking the Gospel to the whole world.

Pentecost carries great significance for those early followers of Christ, and for us today. Here’s the sermon I preached on Pentecost Sunday, May 27, 2012, titled Living in the Power of Pentecost.

Pentecost art


On Pentecost the fire of the Holy Spirit fell on the apostles. Debbie installed this multi-layered representation of the Pentecostal fire for our celebration of “the birthday of the church!”

Commencement Prayer at Hargrave Military Academy

I was asked to offer the “Senior Prayer” at Hargrave Military Academy’s 103rd commencement ceremony today. In the past few years I found that writing my prayer for a public event helps me focus my thoughts more clearly.  Here’s the prayer I prayed today for the Hargrave Military Academy Class of 2012.

Hargrave Military Academy Graduation — Senior Prayer

Let us pray.

Almighty God, our Father,

We are gathered here today in this sacred hall to celebrate a milestone in the lives of these seniors. They have come to this hour as the result of their dedication, perseverance, and accomplishment. But they are also gathered here today as a result of your grace, and the guidance of your unseen hand in their lives. For both their effort and your guidance, we are grateful.

Assembled here today with these cadets are their families. Their mothers and fathers, their grandparents, and others who have prayed for them, and who have sacrificed to make this moment possible. They now stand behind their sons and grandsons in silent gratitude, just as they have stood behind them in support for the past four years. Bless these families, and confirm today their hopes for the futures of their sons.

Today as these young men cross the threshold from adolescence into adulthood, may your peace go with them, and may your wisdom guide them now and in the future.

In this world, where your children are more often divided than united, may these graduates become peacemakers. When they face seemingly insurmountable obstacles, may they seek solutions that lift up, rather than tear down; that reach out, rather than reject; that redeem, rather than condemn.

Just as you have guided their lives in past years, our prayer today is that you will guide their lives beyond this campus, and in the future. Reward their study, encourage their curiosity, and expand their horizons.

And, in the days to come, may they look back with appreciation on the years they invested at Hargrave Military Academy  — years which shaped their character, sharpened their minds, and strengthened their bodies.

Send them from this place that has been their home, out into a world filled with possibility — to make it a better place, to be your ambassadors of hope and healing in a world which needs both.

This is our prayer today, and we pray it in the name of your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Baccalaureate Sermon: Standing Out From the Crowd

Last Thursday night I was asked to deliver the baccalaureate sermon at Hargrave Military Academy. About 340 seventh through twelfth graders are enrolled at Hargrave, and all were present for this last convocation of the school year. Here’s the message I shared with them.

Standing Out From The Crowd

Numbers 13:1-3, 26-33 NIV
The Lord said to Moses, 2 “Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites. From each ancestral tribe send one of its leaders.”
3 So at the Lord’s command Moses sent them out from the Desert of Paran. All of them were leaders of the Israelites.

26 They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran. There they reported to them and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land. 27 They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. 28 But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there.29 The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country;and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan. ”

30 Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”

31 But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” 32 And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. 33 We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”

The Origin of Baccalaureate

It’s great to see you here tonight. Of course, you didn’t really have a choice about whether or not you were going to come tonight, but I’m still glad to see you. And, if it makes you feel any better, the original baccalaureate sermon was delivered in Latin…by the students who were graduating!

So, that should help you feel a little better about having to be here tonight. You just had to show up, unlike the kids at Oxford in 1432, when the baccalaureate sermon was thought to have originated.

Baccalaureate is made up of two Latin words — bacca, which means bachelor; and, laureate, which means laurels. The idea was that candidates for the bachelor’s degree would present laurels, or accolades of thanksgiving and gratitude, for the four years of learning required to finish college.

Tonight, rather than have all of you speak to us in Latin,  all you have to do is listen to me in English, so this shouldn’t be too hard for either of us.

An Old Testament Story with a Contemporary Point

The story that was read just a moment ago is from that beloved Old Testament book, Numbers. I’m sure you’ve spent many hours reading the book of Numbers and can quote entire passages from memory. Actually, believe it or not, lots of people think the Book of Numbers is a little boring. Well, maybe not math majors, but everybody else.

Anyway, the Book of Numbers is also called “In The Wilderness” in the Hebrew Bible, which makes a lot more sense. That’s actually where we pick up the story that was just read a moment ago. Here’s the scene:

This happened about 3,500 years ago. The nation of Israel — sometimes called “the children of Israel” because literally they were all descended from Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel — had just escaped from Egypt. In Egypt, they were slaves whose job was to make bricks for Pharaoh’s construction projects. Not great work, by any estimation, and Pharaoh liked the idea of free labor, so he was reluctant to let the Israelites leave.

But God chose Moses to confront Pharaoh, and after Pharaoh and the whole country of Egypt suffered 10 plagues, like swarms of locusts, rivers turning to blood, frogs everywhere, and so on, Pharaoh finally relented and let them go.

Now, fast forward a few months at least. The Israelites, which are somewhere between 300,000 and 2-million depending on who’s counting, have made their way to the land that God has promised to give them. That’s why it’s called The Promised Land. And you thought senior Bible was hard!

So, now they’re camping close to the land of Canaan. But before they go over, they decide it’s a good idea to do some recon. So, God tells Moses to select one man from every tribe — there were 12 tribes — and send them on a recon mission to spy out the land.

Now these were young guys, strong fellows, who were fit and strong. We know that because they bring back some of the fruit of the land. One cluster of grapes is so large that it takes two guys to carry it back strung on a branch between them.

So, when they get back to camp, everybody is excited. The 12 spies show everyone the grapes, the pomegranates, and other fruit they brought back. Then, the chairman of the committee of spies gives his report.

We don’t know who it is who gives the report, but he says, “Moses, you’re exactly right. The land you sent us to is great! Lots of produce, fertile land, great for growing crops and raising cattle and sheep. But there’s only one small problem. Other people already live there. And, they’re bigger than we are. They’re so big, we looked like grasshoppers compared to them. So, unfortunately, we can’t take the land because they’ll kill us.”  That is more or less what he said.

However, Caleb and Joshua don’t agree. Caleb speaks up and says, “Wait a minute. He’s right — this is a great land, no doubt about that. But he’s wrong about going in. We can do it. God promised it to us, and God will give it to us. We ought to go ahead!”

So, this is something of a democracy already, or at least they think it is. Ten-to-two, majority rule, nobody is moving into Canaan, grapes or not.

Not only that, but that night everybody in the camp, all 600,000 – 2,000,000 of them, starts complaining. “We should have stayed in Egypt,” some said. Others said, “Moses has brought us out here in the desert to die. We ought to go back to Egypt.” They even talk about stoning Moses and his brother to death and picking a new leader to take them back to Egypt.

Now remember Egypt is where God delivered them from. Egypt is where they were slaves. Egypt is where Pharaoh declared that all their boy babies should be killed to keep the Hebrews from rising up and overthrowing Pharaoh.

God has about all he can take, and all of a sudden, the glory of God fills the place. God says to Moses, “I’m tired of this. Has everyone forgotten all the miracles I did in Egypt to get them out?”

God says, “I’m going to spare their lives, but none of them who did not believe are going to see the Promised Land.”

So, for the next 40-years, until that unbelieving generation died, the nation of Israel wandered in the wilderness. Joshua and Caleb, the two original spies who believed God, finally led the people of Israel into the Promised Land and took it for their own.

Standing Out From The Crowd

The obvious point of this story is that the majority can be wrong. The ten spies who did not want to try to enter the Promised Land were wrong. Just because you’re in the majority, doesn’t make you right. The history of our own country tells that story. “The majority rules” may work in politics, but often in life it is those in the minority, people like Joshua and Caleb, who are in the right.

In a couple of days you’re going to graduate. You’ve worked hard for your diploma, and I congratulate you on your accomplishment. But this is only the beginning as you pass from this institution learning to other institutions higher learning. So, this is only one chapter in your life story.

The lesson I want you to take away tonight is that faith gives us the courage to stand up for what is right, to chart a different course, to make the lives of others better, to change the world.

But you don’t do that by going along to get along. You don’t change the world by doing what everyone else has done. You don’t make the lives of others better by simply preserving the status quo.

The Monkey Experiment

Let me tell you a story I think you’ll find interesting. In 1967, an experiment was published in the periodical, Progress in Primatology. In that experiment, researchers took 5 monkeys and placed them in a room with a banana hanging from the ceiling, and a ladder placed under the banana.

Apparently it is true that monkeys like bananas, so when the first monkey attempted to climb the ladder to get the banana and eat it, he was sprayed with cold water. Not only was he sprayed, but the other 4 monkeys were sprayed with cold water as well.

Monkeys apparently dislike being sprayed with cold water more than they like bananas, and so when the monkeys stopped trying to retrieve the banana, the researchers replaced one of the monkeys with a new monkey.

Now this new monkey sees the banana, and guess what, he immediately starts to climb the ladder. Only before he can get past the first step, the other monkeys jump on him, and beat him up. Of course, the new monkey doesn’t know why he’s being beat up, because he’s never been sprayed, but he quickly learns not to go for the banana.

Once the new monkey has learned his lesson, the researchers replaced another one of the original monkeys with another new monkey. Guess what happens? The new monkey goes for the banana, and the other monkeys jump on him and beat him up. Only this time, the first new monkey also joins in beating up the second new monkey. He doesn’t know why, but he’s quick to do what all the other monkeys are doing.

Once the second monkey has learned his lesson, the researchers replace a third monkey, then the fourth, and finally all five monkeys and been replaced. None of the monkeys tried to get the banana anymore, but they didn’t know why. None of the new monkeys had been sprayed, so they didn’t know the history of why going for the banana was dangerous. All of them simply gave up, and they didn’t know why.

Back To Egypt or Into The Promised Land?

My point is this: You can be like the monkeys who kept others from even trying to get the banana because you’re afraid of the consequences. Fear of failure is a paralyzing fear that keeps many from even attempting to do something new.

In other words, you decide if you want to go back to Egypt, or if you want to enter the Promised Land.

If you think you want to go to the Promised Land, there will be a lot of folks who will say you can’t. That you’ll fail. That there are too many obstacles out there. That no one has ever done that before.

But if you listen to the voice of God, the voice that says to you, “I haven’t brought you this far to fail. I love you and have a great plan for your life,” then you’ll do what others said can’t be done. You’ll succeed where others see only failure. You will find God’s plan for your life, not for someone else’s, and you will do what God is calling you to do.

That’s what Father Greg Boyle did. After serving for two years as the associate pastor at Dolores Mission in Los Angeles, California, Father Greg became the pastor. In 1986, Los Angeles was considered the gang capital of the United States, and Father Greg’s neighborhood was ground zero. There were 10 gangs consisting of over 10,000 members in Father Greg’s community.

But, against the advice of others, Father Greg decided that somebody ought to love those gang members with what he called “boundless compassion.” So, Dolores Mission opened its doors to gang members.

At first, the gang members just used the church as a place to hang out. Father Greg didn’t mind that so much. He figured if they were at the church, they weren’t somewhere else causing trouble. But so many kids had been kicked out of public schools for gang activity, that Father Greg started an alternative school for gang members. Their first principal lasted one day.

But eventually things settled down. Father Greg stayed busy brokering peace deals between rival gangs, while also running the school. But what the neighborhood really needed was jobs, he thought. Even small time drug dealers weren’t going to give up their livelihood if they had nothing to replace it.

Gradually, Father G, or “G” as most gang members call him, started finding jobs for kids who had left their gangs. G got some doctors involved who were willing to remove gang tattoos, making job applicants more appealing to potential employers. Gradually, Father Greg’s “Jobs for the Future” program began to pay off. Dozens of gang members, more than they could handle came to Dolores Mission looking for work.

So, Father Greg started Homeboy Bakery, taking over an abandoned bakery in the neighborhood. Eventually, Homeboy Bakery spun off Homegirl Cafe, where former gang girls worked as waitresses. More businesses were created, and a kind of conglomerate, Homeboy Industries was formed as the umbrella organization.

Today, Homeboy Industries has helped thousands of LA county gang members leave the gang life, and start a new life. With that kind of story, you’d think everyone would have supported Father Greg. But Father Greg had his own “back to Egypt” committee working against him, too.

When they first started working with gang members, Father Greg encountered lots of opposition from citizens in Los Angeles who believed helping any gang member would only encourage more gang activity. After Father Greg wrote an editorial for the LA Times, the offices of Homeboy Industries received several death threats, and a couple of bomb threats.

Of course, looking back, Father Greg’s story is a success, and Homeboy Industries has become a model for the country in gang intervention. But if Father Greg had listened to those who were sure he would fail, to those who were convinced that gang members couldn’t change, then there would be no Homeboy Industries today.

So tonight, as you anticipate graduation, as you face your future, I want you to know that you can find God’s plan for your life. You can be what God is calling you to be. But it will not always be easy. Not everyone will support you. Some might even try to discourage you from following the dream that God gives to you.

When that happens, just remember Caleb and Joshua. Their’s are the only names we remember from that story. They believed God had something for them to do. They believed that they could stand out from the crowd. You can, too. That’s my prayer for you tonight. May God bless you and guide you.

15 Traits of Innovative Leaders

A few days ago I had the opportunity to participate in a leadership conference with Dr. Greg Jones, former dean of Duke Divinity School, and Dr. John Upton, president of the Baptist World Alliance and the Virginia Baptist Mission Board. Next week, I’ll share Greg Jones’ thoughts on leadership, but today I thought you might like to hear what John Upton had to say.

Dr. Upton listed 15 characteristics of innovative church leaders, which he has observed in his global contact with Baptist leaders, and leaders from other Christian traditions. Dr. Upton said that these are not ranked by priority, but are observable in those leaders he has met in countries where the Church is thriving.

1. Leaders create opportunities. Dr. Upton remarked that leaders live in a context of discovery, exploration, and learning. Out of that inquisitive context, leaders open spaces for new things to happen.

2. Leaders say “I don’t know.” Acknowledging honestly that you as a leader do not have all the answers opens the way for others to explore, experiment, and discover things that even you as a leader might not have thought of. Dr. Upton contends that saying “I don’t know” gives permission to others to “figure it out” while the leader offers wisdom and supports those who are exploring new possibilities.

3.  Leaders are rarely the best performers, but rather are talent developers. Upton used the illustration of an orchestra and conductor. While the conductor may not be skilled enough to occupy the first chair of any section, she brings together all of the talent of those who do occupy the orchestral sections into a beautiful blend of harmony and energy.

4. Leaders cast the vision of hope. While “vision-casting” has come to mean the leader presents a program or concept all neatly tied up, Upton contends that great leaders like Churchill and FDR cast a vision of hope. From hope others rise to the occasion, innovate in their situations, and produce more and better results than one leader alone could hope to.

5. Leaders thrive on paradox. Great leaders are able to hold two opposing views in mind, and come up with a solution that considers all possibilities. A good resource is The Opposable Mind: Winning Through Integrative Thinking by Roger L. Martin.

6. Leaders love a mess. John Upton observed that good leaders always have a symbolic supply of duct tape handy, which I thought was a good metaphor for fixing things on the fly. Upton observed that leaders are “comfortable in the craziness,” which is not the same in my opinion as comfortable with lack of focus.

7. Leaders do and then they re-do. There is no absolute solution in any organization. Today’s solution may become tomorrow’s obstacle. Leaders recognize the need for revisiting and re-evaluating an organization’s goals and accomplishments, however those are measured.

8.  Leaders know when to wait. Timing can be just as important as vision. Learning to wait patiently for the right moment, the right atmosphere, the right people to be on-board with a project can be critical to the success of that project. Patience is a virtue, not just in theory, but in leading churches as well.

9.  Leaders are optimistic. Optimism means leaders “believe that this can be a better world, we can make a difference” according to Upton. Optimism is not blind disregard of reality, but a long-range attitude of hope.

10. Leaders convey a grand design, but attend to details. Grand schemes are great, and folks need an over-arching vision. But, as the architect Mies van der Rohe is alleged to have said, “God is in the details.” Apparently, this applies to churches as well as architecture.

11. Leaders make mistakes, but create blame-free cultures. “I’d rather reward a great failure, than a mediocre success,” Upton commented. Failure without blame is not a bad thing for organizations, and part of the learning curve of innovative cultures.

12. Leaders are talent fanatics. Great leaders, according to Jim Collins, surround themselves with highly-talented people, and exhibit personal humility when talking about their group’s accomplishments. Great leaders attract, nurture, mentor, and reward talent, according to Upton.

13. Leaders create networks for peer-learning. Really good leaders are not the only generators of ideas or information in their organizations. Peer-learning networks which connect across organizations, departments, or other organizational boundaries create a culture of curiosity and exploration.

14. Leaders know themselves well. This may be one of the toughest qualities of leadership to master. Self-knowledge, coupled with self-regulation, separates the good from the best in leadership. Acknowledging that “I’m not in charge” of everything, which is the cousin of “I don’t know everything” enables others to succeed and communicates that the leader understands his or her own limitations.

15. Leaders take breaks. There are no rewards for pastors who say, “I never take a vacation.” Leaders need a break from the pressures of leadership in order to rest, recharge, and re-evaluate. Think of preventive maintenance for pastors, and you’ve got the idea. Great leaders step away, have other interests, pay attention to their relationships, and recognize their need for perspective.

Those are John Upton’s 15 characteristics of great leaders, based on his experience and observation. What other traits or practices would you add to this list? Or, how would you rank these in order of priority for your ministry setting?

Podcast: A Mother’s Sacrifice

The Bible features several accounts of mothers, but my favorite Old Testament story about mothers is the story of Hannah and Samuel. Found in 1 Samuel 1, Hannah’s story recounts her willingness to give her son, Samuel, back to the Lord. Samuel, in turn, heard the voice of God calling him. As a result Samuel became the spiritual leader of Israel, speaking to the people on behalf of God. Samuel would be used of God to anoint Saul as king. Then, when Saul failed to serve God, Samuel anointed David as king of all Israel. My point is that the sacrifice of those who shape our lives, including mothers, demands that we respond in faithfulness to God. Here’s the link to the message I preached on Mothers’ Day 2012 at Chatham Baptist Church —

Sermon: Sacrifice Demands Responsibility

On Mothers’ Day, I delivered the chapel message at Hargrave Military Academy. The 800-seat chapel was filled with cadets and their families on a beautiful Sunday morning. 

Sacrifice Demands Responsibility
1 Samuel 1:27-28 NIV

27 I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him. 28 So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord.” And he worshiped the Lord there.

Mothers In The Bible

The Bible, as I’m sure you know, contains the stories of several mothers. First, there is Eve, whose name literally means “mother of all living.” Then there was Sarah, wife of Abraham. Moms, how would you like to have God’s messenger tell you at the age of 90, that you were going to have a baby? That’s what happened to Sarah, and she became the mother of Isaac.

Isaac married a beautiful girl named Rebekah, who eventually gave birth to twin sons – Jacob and Esau. To make a long story short, Rebekah’s favorite was Jacob, and she helped her son trick his aging father out of the birthright that really belonged to his brother, Esau. After that, Esau was pretty unhappy, so Jacob left home for a long time. And people say the Bible isn’t realistic. Here we have one of the first completely dysfunctional families, with a lot of drama and intrigue. Think “Survivor” but with relatives. Anyway, things finally work out for all of them, Jacob included.

Then we have the mother of Moses, Jochebed. You remember the story of how the evil Pharaoh wanted to kill all the Hebrew boy babies. Moses’ mother put him in a waterproof basket, and set it in the Nile near where Pharaoh’s daughter would bathe. Pharaoh’s daughter appears, sees the baby in the basket and takes him as her own. Moses’s sister, Miriam, is hiding in the reeds there, and pops up just in time to offer to find a Hebrew woman to nurse the child. She, of course, finds Jochebed who gets to raise her own son, until he moves into Pharaoh’s palace. Mothers, even in the Bible, are always looking out for their children.

Of course, the most famous mother in the Bible is Mary, the mother of Jesus. We know that Mary loved her son, marveled at the work God had in store for Jesus, and suffered at his death. We know that Jesus loved his mother, Mary, because as he hangs on the cross dying, Jesus entrusts his mother into the care of his close disciple, John.

But for all the stories of mothers in the Bible, I think the one I like best is in the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel. You heard part of that story in the text today, but let me fill you in on the whole story.

The Story of Hannah and Elkanah

This story happened about 3,000 years ago. Elkanah was a kind man who was married to two women, which I would not recommend today, but 3,000 years ago things were different. Hannah and Penninah were his wives, and Penninah had given birth to children but Hannah had not. In those days, children were the equivalent of Social Security today, and parents needed children to help them, and to provide for them in their old age.

Because Penninah had children and Hannah did not, Penninah picked on Hannah mercilessly. Elkanah, caught in the middle, (which is why you shouldn’t have two wives), tried to make it up to Hannah by giving her his attention, and a double portion of meat to offer when the went up to Shiloh to make a sacrifice. As well-meaning as Elkanah was, I don’t think an extra chunk of meat made Hannah feel better.

As a matter of fact, one day when they were all at the tabernacle in Shiloh, Hannah was so distraught that she began to pray. As she prayed, she wept so hard that she could not speak. Moving her lips in silent agony, Eli, the old priest at Shiloh, thought she must be drunk.

Eli accused her of being drunk, but Hannah protested that she was only praying out of her grief because she did not have a child. Eli understood, and pronounced a blessing on her, saying, “Go in peace and may the God of Israel grand you what you have asked of him.”

Of course, what she had asked was for a son, and in her asking Hannah had promised that if God would give her a son, she would give him back to the Lord’s service.

She prayed, “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life.”

Hannah Brings Samuel To The Tabernacle

Of course, God hears Hannah’s prayer, and Samuel is born. Perhaps three years pass until Hannah is ready to keep her promise to God. So, on the appointed day, she and Samuel, who is probably 3 or 4 at this time, appear at the Tabernacle in front of the old priest, Eli.

There Hannah gives Samuel into Eli’s care, with these words –

“I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of Him. So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord.”

So that’s the story of how Hannah prayed for a son, and then trusted him to God for the rest of his life.

A Story We Can Live

But this is more than a Bible story, even though it certainly is that. This story has the ring of authenticity. Here’s a woman, Hannah, who wanted more than anything to have a baby. Her prayer to God wasn’t a negotiating ploy, but a revelation of her own faith in God.

Hannah trusted God with her deepest desire, and with her future son. Hannah believed that if God allowed her to bear a child, that child would be so special that God would have great things planned for him.

Like Hannah, those of us gathered here today believe our children are special gifts from God. Our prayer may not have been the agonizing prayer of Hannah’s, but in some way each of us has prayed for our children.

If at your house, your children were happy accidents, as they were at ours, you may not have prayed for them to come. But as soon as you knew they were on the way, your heart was filled with concern, with love, with hope, and with a kind of desperate desire that God would bring them into this world safely. And, your on-going prayer, is that God keep them safe, guide them carefully, and help them reach their potential.

There is another way in which you moms and grandmothers, and others gathered here today are like Hannah, though. Like Hannah, you trusted your child to others at a young age.  Okay, maybe not three, but at 12 or 13, I’m sure you weren’t ready for your son to leave the safety and security of your home.

Yet, because you love your son, you have entrusted his safety, his education, and his future potential to Hargrave Military Academy. Like Hannah, last fall, or several falls ago, you delivered your son to this campus, to give him into the care of the faculty and staff here at this historic institution.

Why did you do that? Because you believed, like Hannah, that your son deserved the best. That your son would benefit from attending school here at Hargrave, an institution founded upon Christian values.

I can’t imagine the sacrifice that this must take on your part. For some of you, that sacrifice is financial. But for all of you, there is a bigger sacrifice that you as mothers and grandmothers have made.

Now, I don’t want to make any of you cry, but I do want to salute your sacrifice. When you sent your son to Hargrave, you realized that the back door would no longer bang loudly at 3:30 PM each day when school was over, because your son is here. You realized that you would miss out on that whirlwind of endless soccer practices, football games, drama club presentations, and all of the other afterschool activities kids are involved in.

When you sent your son to Hargrave, I’m sure you realized that when he got hurt, you would no longer be there to put a band-aid on his scraped knee like you did when he was six. (By the way, don’t do that now because he’ll be really embarrassed!)

You and your family have missed seeing him compete at swim meets, or on the baseball field, or in the science fair because you made the sacrifice to send your son here instead of keeping him at home.

You made these sacrifices because just like Hannah, you believe that your son is special, that God gave him to you and your family. Because you believe in your son, and his future, like Hannah, you have entrusted him to others to shape his life, strengthen his character, and send him home as a responsible, mature young man.

So, on this Mothers’ Day, I commend your sacrifice, your love, and your dreams for your son.

Sacrifice Demands Responsibility

But, before I finish here today, I have a word for your sons, for these cadets whom you have entrusted to this institution.

The sacrifices that your mother, and your family have made need to be acknowledged and repaid.

Let me tell you what happened to Samuel after his mother left his at the Tabernacle in Eli’s care.  As a young boy, Samuel was sleeping one night, when he heard a voice calling him. “Samuel, Samuel” the voice said.

Thinking it was old Eli calling, because young Samuel was now old enough to be Eli’s helper, Samuel went to the old priest’s room. “Did you call me?” Samuel asked Eli.

Eli replied, “No, I didn’t call you, go back to bed.”

This happened again. A voice calls “Samuel, Samuel” but when Samuel went to Eli’s room, Eli said, “I didn’t call you, go back to bed.”

Well, the third time this happened, Eli figured out what was going on. “God is speaking to you. The next time you hear the voice call your name, say ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant hears you.”

Samuel did just that, and God called Samuel to be one of the great Old Testament leaders. Samuel would become the spokesman for God, God’s representative to the nation of Israel. When Israel clamored for a king, Samuel would anoint Saul, and when Saul failed, Samuel would anoint King David to be King over Israel. Samuel took his mother’s sacrifice seriously, and lived up to the opportunity given him as Eli’s helper, and then as the spiritual leader of Israel.

Let me tell you a story about a young man who responded to his mother’s sacrifice. Peng Si is from Guangzhou, China. About four years’ ago, his family scraped together enough money for him to attend college in the United States. Peng Si enrolled in the University of Northern Colorado, and graduated in May 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in accounting.

During the three years it took Peng Si to complete his degree, he was very careful with his expenses. His family had already sacrificed over $75,000 to give him an education in the United States, so Peng Si did not even travel home to see his mother and father during his entire three years of study. He did not want to spend a penny more of his parents’ money, than he had to.

After graduation, Peng Si planned to start a master’s program. But word came from China that his mother was gravely ill with hepatitis. Her only hope was a partial-liver transplant. Peng Si’s twin sister volunteered to donate a part of her liver, but doctors said she was too thin to survive the surgery.

Against his mother’s wishes, Peng Si volunteered to donate 60% of his liver to his ailing mother. The surgery took place on July 22 last year. Both mother and son came through the surgery well.

The Chinese press picked up this story of mother and son. He was called a “shining example for all his peers all over China to follow” by the doctor who performed the surgery.

But the reason Peng Si gave for his act of love was interesting. He said, “Everyone at my US university was very proactive about getting involved in charity and social justice causes,” he said. “It really focused my outlook on what I need to do to help other people, not just to take care of myself.”

I hope you never are faced with a situation like Peng Si and his mother were, but you can still honor the sacrifice your mother and family have made by sending you to Hargrave.

You can listen for the voice of God in your life, maybe not like Samuel did, but God’s voice just the same. That inner voice that tells you to rise above the crowd, to distinguish yourself in your studies, your sports activities, and your relationships.

Several weeks ago, the news media carried the story of 11 Secret Servicemen. These men thought that because they had a privileged position — guarding the President of the United States — that they were exempt from the rules of decency and self-respect. That’s a mistake that is often made by those who enjoy special privileges.

What these 11 men failed to understand is that their special privilege demanded a higher level of accountability and conduct than would be demanded of most people. They made the mistake of thinking their privilege was a license to do as they pleased, when really their privilege was the opportunity to excel. Instead they embarrassed themselves, humiliated their families, and brought shame and ridicule on the United States.

Character counts. The decisions we make matter. You can’t just take care of yourself. Sacrifice demands responsibility. Honor your mothers today by exceeding expectations, overcoming obstacles, and demonstrating character. That is your mom’s hope for you. Give her the gift of your best on this Mothers’ Day.