For Ian, on his graduation

When I first met you, you were an infant on a blanket in the basement of the lodge at Kimball Camp. Your mother was taking notes at a workshop I was leading for home school families and your dad was upstairs on the payphone, working a deal.

So many things have changed since then. For one thing, cell phones actually work at Kimball Camp now. Your mom uses email. Your dad takes you down town to play music on the sidewalk.

But one thing has not changed. You were loved then, and you are loved now, by parents, siblings and friends who prayed for you and cared for you.

Ian Atilla
Ian Atilla
]At that workshop I was talking about having goals for our children and the metaphor I used was of a bowstring, which we pull tight as we aim our arrows at a target. Our children are a heritage from the Lord, the Psalmist tells us. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.

If we are going to have a quiver full of arrows we will have to be intentional about what we do with them, I said. And your parents were thoughtful and intentional, and that is part of what we celebrate today.

For your mom and dad you were not just a baby, you were a blessing¬— a gift to be nurtured, an arrow to be aimed. And I suspect what they wanted at the time was a son who was sensitive and honest, thoughtful and obedient, committed to serving others and obeying God. They wanted a gentleman, and they got what they wanted. You are not just a polite young man. You are gracious and hospitable in remarkable ways for one so young, and a blessing to many.

This is the result of purposeful parenting, the kind of parenting that sent you on mission trips and drove you to rehearsals, that modeled compassion and obedience and that challenged your attitudes and behaviors, always aiming at the mark of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

But they got more than they wanted or imagined. No one looking at that baby on that blanket knew you could become the model of a modern major general, or the lion of Narnia, or the master of Thornfield Manor. No one expected the quiet intensity or the brooding caution that defines you as a young man, an artist who seeks the will of God with passion and serves an audience with care.

These opportunities were not accidents, but appointments. That’s because God has a mark of his own and is aiming you toward it. He has a purpose for you beyond our imagination or understanding. It may not be acting or performance of any kind. You may not know what his target is until after you hit it.

But whatever his purpose is it will require the discipline you have learned and the sensitivity you have displayed. And as you reach it you will touch the hearts of others and point them toward a great God and a greater good.

So as we celebrate your achievements and anticipate your future, allow me to offer two admonitions, not so much about what steps to take but how to take them.

First, I encourage you to be more of what you are. Cultivate the graces of a godly man that have already been planted.

Psalm 112 says

Light dawns in the darkness for the upright;
he is gracious, merciful, and righteous.
It is well with the man who deals generously and lends;
who conducts his affairs with justice.

You have become gracious, merciful and righteous. Let this define you and guide you. Be hospitable, generous and just. Make others feel welcome, as your father has taught you. Give your time and energy to those in need, as your mother has shown.

Do these things over and over and over, until the light dawns in the darkness and people around you see the glory of God in the conscientious and consistent life of a true gentleman.

We have enough celebrities and narcissists. What we need are gentlemen, men who fear God and delight in His law.

We need men like Timothy, of whom Paul says, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first [in your case in your mother and father] and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

Which leads to my second admonition: Be braver than you have been, because God has not given you a spirit of fear.

I expect you remember learning how to come off Crystal Mountain on your bike without riding the brakes. You will have to learn to take your hands off the brakes more often, and not just for the thrill my son Pilgrim was encouraging.

I think you were able to do this that day because you were able to trust Pilgrim and try something new, which is just a shadow of what God now requires. Some days God will require you to take your hands off the brake and the steering wheel, trusting wholly in his marksmanship, if I may mix the metaphors a bit.

Going back to Psalm 112 we find the righteous man will not be moved.

He is not afraid of bad news;
his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.
His heart is steady; he will not be afraid,

Obedience is one thing, and is not all that difficult. But obedience rooted in faith is something else entirely. This is the kind of obedience where we take our hands off the brakes, obeying God when we don’t know the outcome. Faith is the evidence of things not seen.

All of us are comforted by our routines and feel safe when we are in control. But God is not as interested in our comfort as we might like. In the next few years he will push you and challenge you and make you very uncomfortable, because he wants you to trust Him and not be afraid.

There is another side of being a godly man. We are not just gentlemen but warriors. Verse 8 says the righteous man looks in triumph on his adversaries and verse 9 talks about caring for the poor.

This call to triumph, as a warrior and a champion, is not for the timid. Godly men must battle injustice, with hearts that are firm, and steady, rooted in our willingness to trust God. They can not be afraid.

I can’t tell you what this battle will look like for you, and neither can your parents. If we could, you wouldn’t have to trust God at all. But I can tell you this. You will have to be braver than you have been while you become more of what you are.

Your parents are stepping aside and God is pulling back the bowstring, aiming you at some target of his own. You are more precious to Him than you are to your parents, as hard as that is to imagine. He is wiser and stronger by far. There will be more tension in the string because he wants to send you farther and straighter than we can see.

The arrow has no strength or purpose of its own, but relies solely on the skill of the archer who will give you a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

So become more of what you are. Become braver than you have been. Fly straight, go far and trust God.

And the Lord will rescue you from every evil deed and bring you safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

1 thought on “For Ian, on his graduation”

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