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You Are Loved!

Recently I was asked to give the commencement speech at Greenville University. I was so humbled and honored to be a part of such a sacred moment. In a future post, I will share about how surreal that is when you are sitting in a place you thought you would never be, but that is a different reflection.

Here is what I shared that day and what I believe for you today in whatever you might be working through or graduating from.

On behalf of the many people here who have supported, loved, listened to, and encouraged you, let me begin by saying to you, class of 2023, “Congratulations Graduating Class!” 

I am honored to be here. And I would like to thank President Suzanne Davis, the Board of Trustees, the Advisory Board, Faculty, Staff, Alumni, and fellow students for allowing me to share some words of encouragement with you on this incredible day. 

And thank you, parents, single parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, family, and friends. You are the unsung heroes of today. But we recognize and see you!

We saw you as you supported the educational pursuit and dreams of your student, friend, and family member while they attended Greenville. Thank you.  

These fantastic students are here not only because of their hard work, late hours, and sometimes lots of faculty grace but also because of you.

Your loved ones, these students, were allowed to succeed because you have applauded, loved, encouraged, prayed, driven, texted, prayed some more, and sacrificed time-treasure-talent for them. 

For some of you, this is the first person in your circle or family to have been given a degree, and for others, this is a generational legacy fulfilled. So, thank you.

How I wish our academic institutions could bestow you all with a diploma. As a parent who both of his children decided to go to schools that were above my pay grade, it would be nice to get a piece of paper that is not attached to a school bill or loan.

Nevertheless, I say to all of you – “Well done, good and faithful family and friends; you have blessed the next generation of world changers and scholars, and great is your reward.”  

So, class of 2023, this is your moment to give all those here who supported you the applause they deserve. 

Now, I have been to many commencements. Some I have participated in and sat in a similar setting as you. (Kindergarten being my favorite). Others I have attended as I witnessed loved ones and friends as they graduated. 

And they all had one thing in common for me.  

I don’t remember what the commencement speaker said. Sadly, I am not sure I remember even the person who spoke. My son went to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Los Angeles. They had famous alumni, actors/actresses who have received some of the highest accolades in the entertainment industry, and I don’t remember a name or the topic.  

The only graduation I remember was Kindergarten because of my first crush, Ms. Bell.  

So, all that to say is that I recognize there is a strong possibility you might not remember me or what I say today. And I will not be offended. 

Yet what I can only hope for is to speak into this sacred time and pray it lands in a way that your heart will allow the hope of my words to be intertwined with this great moment in your life.

 And here is what I want to say, “You are Loved!”  

 Let me repeat if you missed it or have forgotten, “You are Loved!”

I am not going to give you the five things you need to succeed. Or the three things that have allowed me to achieve. Or stories of my many failures and how they were overcome. 

I am going to provide you with just one thing. The one thing that has made everything else come together. The one thing I have seen successful people steward. The one thing I have experienced in my achievements and my ability to overcome many failures is this one thing, Love. To be loved and give that Love away has changed everything.

And as the great theologian, Buddy the Christmas Elf, says, “I’m in love, I’m in love and don’t care who knows it!” 

And God says I love you. 

You are loved!

We are radically, extravagantly, ridiculously, consistently, graciously, justly, dangerously, recklessly, and mercifully loved. And this Love has a name, Jesus.

I recognize that some here have not understood that kind of Love from God or that you would even consider that He does love you. But, unlike the world’s offerings of what Love looks, sounds, and feels like, the goodness of God’s Love is that it is not dependent on you or can be duplicated by what the world tries to offer.

Why? Because He loves you so radically different than the world. He loves you whether you want it or not. He loves you not based on your behavior, another’s approval, a like on your social media, or even you not accepting it. He loves you, and you can’t change His mind. 

You are loved!

A few moments ago, we listened to several passages that weaved one singular thought or theme I hope you caught onto. Love. When the Apostle Paul writes to the church in Philippi. Who many would argue was his favorite congregation. His opening prayer is a gift to the church and you and me.  One little phrase that your Love may overflow. 

Other versions say it this way. Your Love might become more rich in knowledge, abound more, displaying itself in greater depth, that your Love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well.  

Why does Paul say this? So that you will be able to discern, decide, recognize, treasure, and recognize what matters—God’s Love for you and your Love for others. 

You are loved!

It is incredible that arguably the most brilliant and educated follower of Jesus has on the top of his prayer list for us this encouragement, love. As much as Paul did and continues to contribute to the church and our faith in Christ and all that we contend and disagree upon, let us not forget it was all grounded and founded in his Love for Jesus and God’s people. And to challenge us to the same proposition. 

You are loved!

I can’t top the Apostle’s biblical, theological, and relational truth for you today. I don’t think I would want anything more for you than that your Love abounds and increases for Christ and all of His imago Dei. 

You are Loved!

A few years back, we were all trying to navigate the pandemic. As a pastor and superintendent, I served multi-ethnic/cultural/lingual churches in California. During that time, my congregation members were hospitalized, and some were not making it out. And a few of our pastors did not survive Covid or the challenge of ministry. So, it was a difficult time to Pastor and lead and thrive. And to be honest, I felt so much pressure as people isolated and then soon divided over so many issues our nation and globe were facing. 

A friend asked, “How can I pray for you?” I said, broken-heartedly and exhausted; please pray that I might have wisdom. Not a horrible prayer and not one I wouldn’t recommend for all of you. However, his answer profoundly impacted me. He said, “Fraser, I will pray that you abound in Love, and I promise wisdom will follow. Many more things your heart desires will follow if we pray for more of His Love.” That is precisely what Paul the Apostle tells us.

And what it meant for me was that the beauty, depth, length, width, and gift of God’s Love brought all the resources I would ever need. And that proved to be true. HE MADE A WAY when I wanted to be right in all the debates and chose Love instead. LOVE MATTERED MOST when I didn’t know what to say to people losing loved ones. 

When families were despairing, Love showed up. When racial and political tension was causing our homes, churches, community, and nation to look hard at ourselves, Love was needed. A selfless love.

Bob Goff once said, “Selfless love is always costly; fear can’t afford it, pride doesn’t understand it, and friends never forget it.” 

God shows up and shows off when we ask Love to enter our world. When all want to leave or run. We are reminded that His Love doesn’t walk away. It may correct and guide, but it does not abandon. 

And when we recognize that being His child is to be loved and acknowledge that God does not change his opinion of me based on my failings, behaviors, decisions, or undifferentiated use of my words. And He is willing to give second, third, fourth, and so many chances. Love certainly tops our wisdom and knowledge. 

As a matter of fact, you can be wise and knowledgeable and unloving, but when you are loved as Jesus loves, wisdom and knowledge are loyal companions. 

I was asked to entitle this speech I was to give to you today, and I choose this “Love never graduates. It perpetuates.” By this, Love certainly grows and matures, but I can’t tell you from this platform that it arrives like a diploma in the mail as a marker of completion.

It continually grows and evolves when we risk, fail, dream, dash, laugh, lose, and embrace living in the moment. Love perpetuates. Love gives away, and it continually grows.

You have graduated, and soon you will be bestowed a certificate recognizing this achievement, but Love is not a certificate to be attained or just a ritual to be observed. It is the person of Jesus, incarnate, divine, immanent, and holy, embraced every day of your life.  After you get your diploma, you will no doubt frame it, hang it on a wall, or put it on a shelf.

However, His Love, God’s Love, is not something to just be achieved so that you can hang it on a wall or frame it on the shelf so that you can point to it and see, look, I have learned all there is to love – being loved and loving others. No, Love continually perpetuates. 

And I hope you see your diploma or this graduation not so much as the completion of your pursuit of learning but as the catalyst to so much more. The motivation of taking all that you studied, known, and been known by and now steward to share with the world. 

We are not permitted to choose the frame of our destiny. But what we put into it is ours. – Dag Hammarskjold (Former Secretary General of the United Nations)

Love is the same. We study, know, and are known by the author of Love, God. And have been given the privilege to steward that Love to the world. It perpetuates—your destiny.

And with this diploma comes a responsibility between you and Greenville, you and your field of study, that you not only did the work to achieve it but will perpetuate the use of this study for the betterment of our world.  It is to be loved by Him and love others modeled by Jesus radically, enthusiastically, and sacrificially. So, Love is not just a card you receive, a plaque on a wall, a letter or text that is signed I love you.

Love is Jesus. Love is Jesus in you.  Love is Jesus for you. Love is invading the spaces in your work. 

It’s not just reserved for sacred moments and sacred halls but wherever you are as living witnesses of a God who loves you and loves His world.

Love is in math, science, business, medicine, agriculture, athletics, psychology, nursing, literature, education, administration, criminal science, political science, all theology, and theology. Love is in the marketplaces, homes, and communities you will live in, work in and bring His Love and life to.  

Why? Because His Love resides in you and where you go, His Love finds expression in the gifts, talents, and dreams you bring to the environments and occupations you have been called to.

Maya Angelou once said, “If you’re going to live, leave a legacy. Make a mark on the world that can’t be erased.” And Love in Christ, through Christ, for Christ cannot be erased. 

Love does not just graduate beloved graduates; Love perpetuates.

You are Loved!

And what can this perpetuating Love do through you and for you?

Love can forgive. Love can heal. Love can enter your dreams and take them higher. 

Love can believe even without seeing all the evidence or the next step.

Love can create home and hospitality. 

Love can invite the broken, voiceless, and marginalized into God’s shalom and grace.

Love can strengthen and protect the weak. Love can cast out fear.

Love can create, ideate and change the atmosphere. 

Love can embrace others who don’t see the world as you do.

Love can keep your identity secure when the world tries to define you.

Love can make your heart dance and ask others into the party.

Love makes you attractive, and His Love will help you know what distracts you.

Love can hope for a better tomorrow while creating change today. 

Love will hurt when you grieve and experience loss but will breathe light into the darkness and shadows.

Love will help you see, hear, feel, and know that you are alive today and eternally.

Love will never give up on you.

Please know that Love is not something you will always feel like you know, but it will always know you because His Love can’t help but pursue you, walk with you, and go before you.

You are loved!

Early on, when I began to pastor as a part of our services, we had a ‘mingle time’ for people to get out of their seats and meet and greet one another. Our introverts despised it, and our extroverts loved it. During one of these mingles times, I encouraged the congregation to find someone and say this to them, “You are loved!”

As worship continued and into my message, I saw one of the men in our congregation trying to keep it together emotionally. After the service, he came up to me and finally broke down. He told me, “Pastor, thank you for mingling time today.” And I responded politely and asked him why it was so especially important. And quietly, he said, “Nobody has ever said that I was loved!” He shared with me his story of upbringing, and it was painful and vulnerable. He finally told me, “When I heard it the first time, I didn’t want to believe it, and then another person came up to me, and then another.” It was overwhelming, but something inside me felt more free, hopeful, and alive. He told me, “I am loved, aren’t I, by God and others?” And I said, “Yes, and His love will never run out or stop telling you!”

We never know how powerful three little words can be, do we?  

You are loved! 

Graduating class of 2023, You are loved. Now tell your neighbor!

You may have noticed that I had not included you in my long thank-you list at the beginning of our time. It was not because I had forgotten but instead saving the best for last.

Thank you, Graduating Class of 2023, for putting in the work, finishing this part of the race, growing, maturing, and accomplishing something many only hope to achieve.

And thank you that as you leave this place of graduation and many memories, you will remember to perpetuate Love.

You might not remember me, but I hope you remember one thing, “You are Loved!”

“So this is my prayer: that your Love will flourish and that you will love much and well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your Love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush. Live a lover’s life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of, bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9-11 MSG)

Congratulations, Graduating Class of 2023. May God continue to Bless you as you enter a new chapter of adventure in the Kingdom of God. 

My name is Fraser, but you probably won’t remember that.

Just remember, You are loved!

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