March 15, 2010 at Salem Mennonite Church
Note: One of the parents at the induction said she thought the speech should be put here, so here it is below, slightly edited. There are links to be present later to sites related to specific content.
Heather Nichole Boone
Allison Marie Brosius
Hou-in (Michael) Cheong
Erica Kaitlyn Garber
Samuel McKinley Olson
Eunbyul (Nina) Park
Lindsey Marie Aldaco-Manner
Mitchell Robert Blackstone Daily
Emily Anne Fahndrich
David Gabriel Jocson
Margaret Louise Kreder
Joshua Ryan Mack
Logan Ray Mordhorst
Rebekah Jeanne Polivka
Zachary Taylor Smith
Pierre Andrew Zook
SPECIALLY RECOGNIZED SOPHOMORES
Morgan Danielle Bristow
Janae Elizabeth Mansour
Calla Susanne Stinson
Thank you, Michael [Cheong], for that kind introduction. Michael is in good company. His sisters Iris (Class of 2003) and Cynthia (Class of 2005) were members of NHS at Western.
Principal Mr. Camp, Assistant Principal Mr. Derochowski, NHS Advisor Mrs. Stinson, esteemed faculty members and staff of Western Mennonite School, National Honor Society members and members-to-be, honored sophomores, loving, proud parents of these illustrious scholars, and friends, thank you for the opportunity to speak on this occasion.
I thank you, especially, current members of NHS, for asking me to speak. It is an honor that you offer me on an occasion devoted to honoring you and your fellow students who have excelled.
You know, I was at the benefit concert Saturday night. It was so inspiring. I was sitting there listening to you all make such beautiful music. I was so thankful for Mr. Adrian and Mr. Bailey for what they have done to bring that out of you. But beyond that I was remembering the good times we had in IPS and Chemistry and Physics. . . I have fond memories of teaching about the Periodic Table in Chemistry; you know, with the Two Towers of elements and the transition elements like a wall in the middle. It’s really very beautiful.
And then there’s the electron orbitals of the atom—s, p, d, f—and the energy levels they are in—you all remember those, don’t you? And as you go from the simplest atoms like hydrogen and helium to more complex ones like gold and uranium, the electrons go into the orbitals in the energy levels in a simple mathematical pattern which is pictured on what is called an Aufbau diagram. And when you match the elements with the orbitals on the Aufbau diagram you realize the Aufbau diagram is essentially the same as the Periodic Table! So the beauty of the Periodic Table is the manifestation of the beauty of the individual kinds of atoms.
And when students see this, the ones who were paying close attention, they go, “WOW! This is really cool!” (. . . You had to be there! . . .) What’s just happened is that students have connected together in their heads things that they had no idea were related—it’s called a synthesis, and it happens not only in the classroom but has happened often in science in general. Like free fall on earth and motion in the heavens (gravity!), or like light and electricity & magnetism. Light is waves of electromagnetism. When synthesis happens to students in the classroom, it’s very exciting and lots of fun.
Saturday night at the concert I was seeing these students singing so beautifully and remembering good times in Chemistry class with these same students. I was talking to one of the choir members at the reception and telling her how inspired I was by them during the concert and remembering Chemistry class, and she agreed that we had good times in Chemistry class. I reminded her how we had come to see the beauty of the Periodic Table! She said, w e l l . . ., she wasn’t thinking about t h a t . . . What she was thinking about was when we incinerated gummy bears in molten potassium chlorate and fire was shooting out of the test tube to a music video!
I had to agree with her, that was an exciting experiment. I still think she was thrilled about the Periodic Table back there in the classroom at the time. It was just overwhelmed by the fiery gummy bears.
I am of the generation of Good News/Bad News jokes. I have here a brochure that Jews for Jesus calls a broadside. It’s a Gospel tract to give to people. This one is entitled “Good News/Bad News.” It has a drawing of one of these ships that that is powered by a bunch of men rowing in rhythm. It shows the rowers’ supervisor holding his whip and giving the morning briefing. The sun is hot and the men are sweating. He says, “I’ve got some good news and some bad news. First the good news. There’ll be a double portion of drinking water today. Now the bad news. The captain wants to go water skiing.”
I have good news and bad news tonight.
The bad news is that it’s a jungle out there. There are dangers in academia and the world at large. You or your faith might not survive.
All your life older people around have given you advice, and you have heard and will hear a lot of it. Please accept this as an expression of love. We want you to live well, to be successful in doing good things for the world. So tonight I’m going to rely on the fact that you asked for it and your parents are going along with it—at least for now.
Philosopher and Christian apologist Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason has said this:
How do we make good decisions? Wisdom. How do we get wisdom? Bad decisions!
Thank God all of those bad decisions don’t have to be made by us. We can learn from others’ mistakes.
How many of you remember the speech at your high school commencement? How many of you remember who gave the speech? I remember both, each for a different reason. The speaker at my commencement in 1964 was the father of the girl I was dating at the time. Are you surprised I remembered?
The fact that it was my girlfriend’s father might have been sufficient for me to also remember the subject of his speech, but there was another reason, the subject itself, that I think would have been sufficient. It was from the Book of Proverbs. I don’t remember the exact reference, but it was probably this one, Proverbs 4:7:
“Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.”
This raises the questions: “What is wisdom? Suppose I want to get it; where do I start?”
So wise of you to ask that! I can do no better than go to Proverbs 1:7:
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
Obviously none of you has despised instruction, or you wouldn’t be here. Your parents, teachers and other mentors have been imparting wisdom to you all your life.
Here’s something that my mentors gave me that has stood the test of time:
Live in such a way now that when you are old and looking back, you will have pleasure, not regrets.
Most of you (young people) are within 6-18 months of starting your higher education.
What shall we make of the system of higher education?
Marvin Olasky, editor of World magazine had this idea:
“Here's my crackpot notion for the week: Why not yank thousands of young people out of their communities and plop them down for four years in a new setting? They would be away from the families and churches that taught them right from wrong and held them responsible. They would learn mostly from folks their own age.
"Oh, in this crazy scheme they would see adults for a few hours a week, often in movie theater environments called "lecture classrooms." Otherwise, they would be encouraged to develop their own peer-driven customs and rules. (We would subtly suggest one of them by placing condom machines close to their beds.)
"Yipes--not an original idea, you say? It's already being done? It's called "college"?
No way--parents wouldn't be so crazy and crass as to risk the development of their children in that way, even if someone were paying them lots of money to do so.
"You say the parents are not being paid anything? You say college costs are at an all-time high while the average national college workload is at an all-time low? (Students spend an average of 29 hours per week in class and doing coursework, compared to 60 hours in the early 1960s.) You say parents are paying tens of thousands of dollars of their own money to place their children in such environments?
Way. The evidence is all around us."
Given this situation, what shall we do? How about some advice?
This is for your social life: Stay out of bed until you are married. I would go further: Save emotional and sexual intimacies of all kinds for marriage. You wouldn’t want someone else doing those things with your wife or husband, would you? It’s the Golden Rule! Protect your marriage by not acting like you’re married until you are. Make your romance a story you will proudly tell your children. In short, defer gratification! It will pay off handsomely—and beautifully.
Another important thing related to this: Remember the unborn. Work to protect them from abortion and love their mothers who often feel trapped and believe they have no other choice.
This is for your intellectual life: Know what a worldview is. Know what yours is. Learn how to identify the worldviews of others, including your professors’ and authors of your textbooks and other books you read, and the movies you watch. Cultivate a Biblical one. Remember that God exists, that Jesus rose from the dead, and will bring all our acts, words, and thoughts into judgment.
Learn some logic and how to recognize logical fallacies--mistakes in thinking—these are very common, by the way, and many very smart people—professors, even—make them. Learn to think for yourself—yet with input from dependable sources. As I Corinthians 5:21 says,
Test everything. Hold on to the good.
As you go about your higher education, you will learn things your parents and teachers don’t know (some of which will be wrong!). You will be tempted to look down on us back home as ignorant, backward, uninformed, out-of-date, out-of-touch, deceived, or just plain wrong. There will be new experts in your lives, your professors, some you will have great respect for.
Be very careful here. Do not be quick to throw overboard what you have been taught up to now. Get other sides of the argument, but you may have to sweat to find them on your own—many universities have become very one-sided, usually left-wing and liberal, and very intolerant of opposing views.
“The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him.” (Proverbs 18:17) Make sure you bring the others forward.
Ask questions—dig deep; be very sure you are right before you change your mind on important matters. We your parents and teachers probably are wrong on a few things and there is a lot we don’t know.
But don’t forget, there will always be a lot of things you don’t know, and when you know more, you may come to realize that we were wiser than you thought!
And give us the chance to respond to the new challenges you are facing that imply or declare that we are wrong. That’s only fair, isn’t it? Talk especially to your parents. Share with them what you are learning. Even take the opportunity to tell your former teachers, too.
A suggestion for parents. Get copies of your son’s or daughter’s textbooks and read them so you can talk knowledgeably and sympathetically with them. Not to check up on them, but to learn along with them and provide a mature perspective on what they are learning.
Yes, they’re expensive, but you can buy used. It will be worth the price to maintain this common ground with your children. And students, please honor your parents by allowing your parents to do this--even encourage them. At the same time, parents, remember that your sons and daughters need to become independent of you and college is part of this process. Be wise in how both of you handle this.
Here’s a quote from the poet Alexander Pope, who was a contemporary of Isaac Newton in the 1600s. I remember my teachers quoting me this repeatedly when I was in your place. I will pass it on one more generation:
A little learning is a dang'rous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.
What’s the Pierian Spring? Does it have something to do with Pierre springing from the court to make a shot? No. It’s the Greek mythical source of knowledge and inspiration on Mt. Olympus that you could drink from and become wise.
It is intriguing that knowledge has the opposite effect on us of alcohol. If you drink in a little knowledge, you get intoxicated. But if you drink largely, like, really guzzle knowledge, you get sober again, presumably because you come to know that you know relatively little.
Remember that the truth about a matter is often not on the surface. As many of you students will know (because you had to memorize it in Chemistry class), I believe in Neander’s Law. Can any of you still recite it? As a refresher to you and for those that haven’t heard it, it goes:
“God reveals himself in his word as he does in his works [that’s the Bible and Nature]. In both we see a self-revealing, self-concealing God who makes himself known only to those who earnestly seek him. In both we find stimulants to faith and occasions for unbelief. In both we find [apparent] contradictions, whose higher harmony is hidden except from him who . . . [perseveres] . . . in reverence. In both in a word it is a law of revelation that the heart of man should be tested in receiving it, and that in the spiritual life as well as in the bodily, man must eat his bread in the sweat of his brow.”
I want to say something about the Bible, which after many challenges I still believe is God’s Word. As Neander’s Law says, there are difficulties in the Bible that you have to sweat to figure out. There are apparent contradictions and other difficulties.
This is to be expected in a book composed of 66 other books written by 40 different authors over a period of 1500 years--ending 2000 years ago--in 3 languages in multiple cultures, quoting people, for example, like Jesus who sometimes spoke in riddles and parables, as he said, “so that, 'though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.’ ”
For example, a little quiz for you--who does the Bible say killed Goliath?
That’s right. David, son of Jesse. In fact it says that in several places (here and here). Did you know that it also says that someone else named Elhanan, son of Jaare-Oregim, killed Goliath?
Looks like a contradiction, doesn’t it? There is a logical solution to this problem that preserves the Bible’s integrity. You can find it in this book, The New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, by Gleason Archer [see answer below*].
Here’s another book I would like to recommend: The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict, by Josh McDowell. In it you will find an encyclopedia of scholarly responses to claims you students will hear that Moses did not write the first 5 books of the Old Testament as Jesus seems to believe, but unknown scholars using J, E, P, and D did instead. You will hear that the Jews borrowed and adapted the story of creation in Genesis 1 and 2 from Babylonian myths while they were in Exile, a thousand years after Moses. And many more such examples.
Many young people lose their faith in college. If the Good News of Jesus Christ is true, and I believe it is, how can you get through the jungle of college and life afterwards, following truth wherever it leads, and come out undeceived by attractive, but false ideas?
For me the key has been my personal relationship with Jesus Christ. He has led me through times of great doubt and confusion as I sought the truth, but kept turning to him and communing with him through prayer, and wrestling with Scripture and other ideas, and continually seeking answers to my questions. I urge you to do the same.
Let me just say something about science.
Many of you will probably take science courses that teach that the theory of evolution is true. You will find that in the academy, the sciences and the humanities as academic disciplines generally assume that naturalistic evolution is true. It is not politically correct to believe it’s not.
Learn all you can about the theory and the evidence given to support it. But suspend belief in it until you have heard in detail all sides of the argument. And take your time—there is no hurry—you have years. Inform yourself about the views of competent Christian scholars. I can give you some recommendations if you are interested. Check my website, bobwilli.net.
In the last part of my talk tonight, I want to encourage you to be ambitious to make a difference in the world and for eternity. And I want to focus on a particular aspect of the Western world, that of religious freedom.
The religious freedom we are enjoying right now in the West is rare in the rest of the world as a whole, and extremely rare in history.
Religious freedom needs to be protected, and fostered where it doesn’t exist. One reason for this is that it makes it possible to get the Gospel of eternal salvation through Jesus Christ to more people more readily.
The good news is that religious freedom is more widespread now than it was when I was in high school. The bad news is that it is under serious threat, though in the past it has been under still more serious threat.
Remember the Cuban Missile Crisis? Some of you do, having lived through it. The rest of you have heard about it. I was a junior at Eastern Mennonite High School that October in 1962. That was during the Cold War which was a nuclear standoff because of mutually assured destruction.
I remember sitting in my bookkeeping class at EMHS that October thinking I might be incinerated in a nuclear fireball before the bell rang. We were very close to all-out nuclear war.
But it didn’t happen. Khrushchev blinked and removed the missiles from Cuba.
There was then very little religious freedom in the Soviet Union. Bibles had to be smuggled in to get in. Millions died never hearing the Good News.
But the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
How did it happen? There were many forces that played out, and many people involved, but there were some people who were especially important in it. Three of them were a Russian, a Pole, and an American, all Christian believers who sought positions of power or influence in the world, including for the sake of religious freedom.
I quote from the book, In But Not Of, by Hugh Hewitt:
“[The Russian] Alexander Solzhenitsyn would use words to strike at the heart of Soviet Communism: [the Pole] Karol Wojtyla—later John Paul II—would inspire the first lasting resistance to the Soviets in one of their vassal states and later encourage freedom throughout the East; and [the American] Ronald Reagan would rally the West to face down every intimidation and to call upon the desperate leaders of the last modern empire, the ‘Evil Empire,’ Reagan called it, to ‘tear down this wall.’ ”
I want to encourage all of us to do what we can, but especially you young people here to consider using your lifetime and resources to engage in the noble task of defending religious freedom in the West and creating it in other places. You would be doing an eternal service to God and your neighbor. It will require courageous leadership from you, and great strength of character to withstand the tendency to be corrupted by the power and influence you must pursue and achieve in order to pull it off. And it will require you to excel in scholarship in the higher education that is ahead of you as you prepare for the task. And as you go about doing these things, spread the Good News as you have opportunity.
To give you guidance in the meaning of Christian ambition and the desire to influence the world, I refer you to this book: In, But Not Of, by Hugh Hewitt, the talk show host and professor of law at Chapman near LA.
You may recognize that title as the words of Jesus describing his disciples: “In the world, but not of the world.” I have a copy on that table over there for each of you current members, inductees and specially recognized sophomores. You may pick up your copy after the ceremony. I hope you will read it and your parents as well. You may disagree with parts of it, but I invite you to consider it.
Hugh Hewitt is a committed evangelical Christian, but he is not a pacifist. But I think he has valuable advice in this book.
In closing, here’s what he says at the end of the book:
“Christians are called to defend the church, and that means politics. That means voting and campaigning and contributing—at a minimum. A politically inactive Christian in the United States is turning his or her back on the church in the world, particularly its most persecuted parts. This uncomfortable fact obliges you to get involved in the often repellent work of politics. You may find it distasteful, or you may love it. Your personal feelings about politics really don’t matter. Having been blessed with this gift of freedom, you cannot bury it and hope Christ doesn’t care that you did nothing with the talent he gave you.
“So please consider that your place in the world, your abilities to influence it, to participate in politics, to help leadership, to raise money, to organize activity, [and I would add, your knowledge of the Good News,] are exactly like the talents entrusted to the servants in the Parable of the Minas from the Gospel of Luke:
"He spoke another parable, because He was near Jerusalem and because they thought the kingdom of God would appear immediately. Therefore He said: “A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return. So he called ten of his servants, delivered to them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Do business till I come.’ But his citizens hated him, and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We will not have this man to reign over us.’
“And so it was that when he returned, having received the kingdom, he then commanded these servants, to whom he had given the money, to be called to him, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading. Then came the first, saying, ‘Master, your mina has earned ten minas.’ And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant; because you were faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities.’ And the second came, saying, ‘Master, your mina has earned five minas.’ Likewise he said to him, ‘You also be over five cities.’
“Then another came, saying, ‘Master, here is your mina, which I have kept put away in a handkerchief. For I feared you, because you are an austere man. You collect what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ And he said to him, ‘Out of your own mouth I will judge you, you wicked servant. You knew that I was an austere man, collecting what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow. Why then did you not put my money in the bank, that at my coming I might have collected it with interest?’
“And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to him who has ten minas.’ (But they said to him, ‘Master, he has ten minas.’) ‘For I say to you, that to everyone who has will be given; and from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. But bring here those enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, and slay them before me.’ ”
Yes, it’s a jungle out there, but the Good News is that with Jesus with you and the Holy Spirit in you empowering and protecting you, you can not only survive, you can thrive, and make a difference for eternity.
Thank you and may God bless you as you learn, lead, withstand, and serve. May he bless you with the treasured words, “Well done, good servant.”
*Who killed Goliath--David or Elhanan?
First Samuel 17:50 states that David cut off Goliath's head with the giant’s own sword, after he had first felled hm with a sling and a stone. Because of this amazing victory over the Philistine, David became the foremost battle-champion among the Israelite troops, even though he was still a mere teenager. But 2 Samuel 21:19 in the Hebrew Masoretic text states that “Elhanan the son of Yaare-oregim the Bethlehemite killed Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam.” As this verse stands in the Masoretic text, it certainly contradicts 1 Samuel 17 . But fortunately we have a parallel passage in 1 Chronicles 20:5, which words the episode this way: "And Elhanan the son of Jair slew Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite." It is quite apparent that this was the true reading, not only for the Chronicles passage but also for 2 Samuel 21:19 [emphasis added].
The earlier manuscript from which the copyist was reading must have been blurred or damaged at this parikular verse, and hence he made two or three mistakes. What apparently happened was the following:
1 . The sign of the direct object, which in Chronicles comes just before "Lahmi," was '-t; the copyist mistook it for b-t or b-y-t ("Beth") and thus got Bét hal-Laḥmí ("the Bethlehemite") out of it.
2. He misread the word for "brother" ('-h) as the sign of the direct object ('-t) right before g-l-y-t ("Goliath"). Thus he made "Goliath" the object of "killed" (wayyak), instead of the "brother" of Goliath (as the Chron. passage does).
3. The copyist misplaced the word for "weavers" ('-r-g-ym) so as to put it right after "Elhanan" as his patronymic (ben Y-'-r-y'-r-g-ym, or ben ya'arēy 'ōregím--"the son of the forests of weavers"--a most unlikely name for anyone's father!). In Chronicles the 'ōregîm ("weavers") comes right after menór ("a beam of") thus making perfectly good sense.
In other words, the 2 Samuel 21 passage is a perfectly traceable corruption of the original wording, which fortunately has been correctly preserved in 1 Chronicles 20:5.
The New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, Gleason Archer, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982, p178-9.