Hillside Christian Academy had a ceremony for their 2020 graduating class on Friday, 5/28/2021. This ceremony is a year late because Coronavirus lockdown meant that that class did not get a proper ceremony last year. Below was my address to them. As much as I hope that my words were memorable to my listeners at the occasion, I hope that they will ring in my own mind as well because I need these words at least as much as anyone else.
A young, tiny little fish, a curious fish, swam up to the surface of the lake one day, just to see what was going on up there. This little fish had not been up there before. Much to that little fish’s shock, some birds, that had been resting on the water suddenly leapt off the surface and soared away. That young little fish, who had never seen anything like that before, decided that it wanted to be a bird, so that it could fly.
The little fish went to its parents and said, “I don’t want to be a fish anymore. I want to be a bird, so I can fly!” Its parents said to it “But you’re a fish. You are special because you are a fish. You have your own special things about you because of the way you were made, while the birds have their own special things about them.”
The little fish was not so easily dissuaded. It swam up to the birds the next day, and said to them, “How can I be a bird like you? I wish I could fly like you!” One of the big birds replied, “Sorry, you can’t be a bird or fly like us. But also, we can’t swim like you, little fish.”
A tiny, young bird, who had never been on the water until that day, heard the question and poked its head down into the water and said to the fish, “Oh I wish I could be a fish! I wish I could swim underwater forever and ever like you! I wish I could go and see what’s at the bottom of the water, I wish I could go and bury myself in the sand and talk to the crabs, and wrap myself in seaweed!” Then the family of birds flew away.
And the little fish suddenly thought: “Wow, how great it is to be a fish.”
I am Andrew Akard, the director of Legacy Youth Group, the Teenagers ministry here at Hillside Church of God. Most of these kids have attended my Youth Group, which I have been running since late 2018. Ms. Yoo-Lee asked me a few weeks ago to speak at this event. I was a bit nervous to agree to it, but there was no way I was going to say no to a chance to speak for these buncha’ rascals’ ceremony.
I want to talk about two main ideas today: Identity, and Calling. What is our identity? Who defines our identity? What is wonderful about our identity? And how does our identity decide our calling? How do we live out our calling? How do I figure these things out in High School, and afterward?
I’ll address this to you graduates as if I’m addressing the rest of your educational career and beyond, not just for the rest of high school, but also college and whatever else you guys do afterwards. By no means am I – at 25- a particularly experienced or wise individual, but I know a bunch of you guys pretty well, and I might be able to give a few pointers that’ll help you guys out, while I try not to put the crowd to sleep.
In the years ahead, you might get to wondering, “what is my identity?” You may spend time asking things like What am I good at? Who am I? What do I like? What do I want to become? This might inspire you to try out many new and different things. You might want to try out new styles of dress, new types of music, or new hobbies and fields of interest. Personal example from me, High school was where I had a short-term K-Pop phase and where I picked up my love for the martial arts.
You might also wonder: “What is my calling?” Related questions will be things like, “What am I meant to be doing? What is my purpose in life? What career direction might I be interested in? What skills or talents do I have? What am I supposed to work towards, believe in, or fight for? What are my dreams and goals?”
The answer to all of these things is of course, found in Christ. God designed each of you to be wondrous, and wonderful, and He made each of you for Him to pour out good things into your lives.
Ephesians 2:10 says “We are God’s masterpiece, created in Christ to do good works”
That already says a lot. The word masterpiece originally referred to a piece that a craftsman, such as a blacksmith would make to graduate into the rank of master, along with all the privileges and authority afforded with it. Nowadays we use the word to refer to an exceptionally well-made, crowning achievement-level piece made by a craftsman, or artist. And Ephesians tells us that we are the masterpiece of God’s. How valuable does this tell you that you are? How much does God love you, that He took the thought and care to make you, His masterpiece? That of all the wonders of the universe, you above it all are His special creation?
The second part of that verse also says that you are created in Christ to do good works. The calling, or purpose of the creation is informed and decided by its design, yes? If a master blacksmith crafts something, he designs it for a purpose, and carefully configures it for that purpose. It might be able to serve another purpose, but not as well as another thing made for that other purpose, and it will serve no purpose better than the one it was meant for. Well, if we are created in Christ to do good works, than that means that the thing we do best is serving that purpose that Christ gave us- doing good works.
A fish’s design, as a fish, designs him for swimming. Our identity as ones made in God’s image, calls us to do good things. And what is the good thing that God wants us to be part of? It is this- to help Him save the world, through sharing the love of God with all.
You might be wondering, what does this have to do with High School- or the rest of High School, and college, and life? Well, for one, I want you to remember your identity, as the son or daughter of the king of all. You might hear things soon that will try to dissuade you from this identity and calling. You might encounter things that will try to pull you away from the joy and hope of your place with God. There might be things that will war for your loyalty, things that will contest for your time, challenge your faith, your mind, your heart, and your belief. When this happens, remember how special the Bible says you are. Remember that God calls you masterpiece. Remember that you matter to Him more than all the other things of His creation. Your value is not increased by how much people like you, nor decreased by how much people don’t.
And I want you to remember your calling, which is to help God save this world. There are countless ways to do that. Anyone doing a good and honest thing can devote the effort of that thing to God, for God to use that effort of yours to bless other people, and to bless you back. So in school, devote your efforts to God. Do not just work for a grade, or even just to get into a good college later on. Let your end goal in all of it be to honor God. Offer your efforts to Him as an offering for Him to grow, and multiply, and make successful. And have the mindset that you will use what you are learning, the knowledge and skills you are acquiring for His good purposes. Approach your work and your classes thinking that these things will prepare you to be a smarter, more capable, more effective worker in the Kingdom of God, to help Him accomplish good things. Do not just see it as boring tasks you have to get done. See it as something you do now, that will bless your life later.
As a fish is happiest being what it is meant to be, nothing will make you happier than when you are celebrating your identity and living out your calling as a Child of God. Exactly how you do that in your own unique way is something that you have the exciting task ahead of figuring out, and trailblazing for yourself. And I know that this will look amazing for each of you. From all the time I have spent with you guys playing dangerous dodgeball, talking about our favorite anime, studying scripture, talking about John Stuart Mills’ philosophy of Utilitarianism, or surprising one of you on your birthday as I do a really embarrassing dance routine to a song by your favorite pop star, I have seen that each of you has such a special personality, and such a special and unique set of skills and traits that you have been blessed with for a wondrous purpose. I can’t wait to see where you all are in 10 years.
So, have fun, work hard, learn as much as you can, but do not forget who you are, and who your heavenly father is. Do not forget that there are people who love you and want to see you succeed and that God has the best things in store for us, if we just say yes to Him. We will pray for your endurance, for your minds to be alert and receptive, and for you to find growth and joy in the years ahead in High School, and for the rest of your lives. You are growing up as kids, but also as Children of God. And that is the most wonderful thing any of us can experience.