Originally delievered as an address at Baccalaureate on June 9, 2017, by Mrs. Kathy Azadian, Dean of Students and Athletic Director
This past year I’ve been asking myself… what voices do I listen to? What voices have I listened to throughout my life? Maybe this question is coming to mind because I’ve been retrospective lately, typical of someone facing a big change in her life. For some of you parents I know you have been retrospective recently as well. As you watch your child flip through the last pages of this chapter in their life called “high school” and anticipate them starting college in September, you are asking the question “will they still hear my voice in their head” once they leave home? And you graduates, I see you also remembering moments from your school years, reminiscing together and maybe wishing you could continue to have the daily interaction you’ve enjoyed with each other here at school.
I’ll admit to you that what sparked this “Voices in my head” thought process over the past months actually has as much to do with the changes in my life as it has to do with a country song that I’ve heard repeatedly (Yes, I’m a country music fan); It’s a song that I often hear myself singing even once the radio has been turned off. It’s a song by Chris Young called “Voices” He sings about the voices he hears in his head, reassuring the listener that they are not due to mental illness, but they are voices of people giving him good advice… about working hard, but don't work your life away, and when you find the one, treat her right - voices that guide us through life.
It’s been fun to go back and remember influential people in my life and remember specific things they have taught me. And I’m fortunate that I’ve had a lot of positive voices in my head from people who have spoken words of truth and encouragement to me throughout my life.
I remember many encouraging words from my parents and even some from my teachers. I remember words of my coaches too. My college coach told us that we all will have days when we’re “off” and just not playing well. Those are the days, she said, when you change your focus from yourself and you choose to be an encouragement to your teammates. I’ve used that advise a lot in my life even outside of sports.
And then there are phrases coaches would say, repeatedly and I remember their tone of voice when they would say them. Phrases like: “Get out of the paint!”, “Bend you knees”, “box out”…Maybe we remember them because of their volume, urgency and repetition.
Then there are some voices that we remember because they border on profound…at least profound enough to put on a T-shirt! We made T shirts for our XC team years ago that said on the Back : “Cross Country: No Substitutes. No Half times. No Time outs”. Or the Basketball T-shirts we made that said “Hard work beats Talent when Talent doesn’t…work hard” Thats a good one!
And of course we hear (I hope we hear) lots of other voices that encourage virtue and good character. Maybe those are things that you students hear, from your parents, and from your teachers that have to do with responsibility, diligence, timeliness, fortitude, kindness and self control. Tidbits of practical advice. Words of wisdom.
The Covenant Community is blessed to have many good and encouraging voices spoken in our classrooms, hallways and assemblies. This is something I have enjoyed for many years. Here are some of the voices I’ve been listening to over the past year here at CCA…
And there’s one more voice that I’m sure will live on for many, many years in my head and heart, and I suspect it will remain with many of you as well. At the beginning of the school year, our senior Prefects met with Mr. Church and I to choose a theme verse for the coming academic year. They chose these verses from Colossians 3:12-17 (NIV): "Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."
The theme verse for this year was verse 14 “and over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” and they even put it on the back of the class t-shirts.This is the voice, the catch phrase, this hashtag …#WearLove that I hope we will remember for years. This hashtag has dovetailed nicely into our year long chapel series on the Beatitudes…Living the good life, living Beloved, Wearing Love.
Since September I’ve thought of this “wear love” as something you literally put on, like clothing…and take off, but that doesn’t work because I’m quite sure this bible verse is not suggesting you ever take off love. Peter is writing to the Colossians, and he refers to them as God’s chosen people, just like we who are believers in Christ Jesus are God’s chosen people. So the analogy of wearing love like you would wear an article of clothing comes up short, like many analogies do at some point.
We need to do more than just wear it, we need to be saturated with the love of Christ to a point where is oozes out onto everything and everyone nearby. What does love oozing out of you mean? My finite mind immediately goes to actions… what does that mean I must do? Doing good is certainly part of the Christian Life. I have a lot of respect for former first Lady Barbara Bush. In addition to promoting literacy, Mrs. Bush was a strong advocate of volunteerism, and I think she was spot on. Certainly with the love of Christ in you, in me, we can be the hands and feet of God to those around us. We can do good, we can be loving. And I encourage you graduates to continue volunteering your time, your gifts and skills and your resources.
But to “wear love” is more than being a volunteer, more that doing good things. Maybe, think of it this way. For all these years in your families, in your churches in this school, students, you have been inhaling the truths of scripture. But, you must be exhaling too! Make sure you exhale God’s truth and love. No holding your breath! Inhale …Exhale. I think about love being like oxygen entering our lungs and from there being spun around into our blood that travels throughout our whole body nourishing us. So that’s what I’ll think about when I remember the phrase #wearlove and I’m thankful to you Prefects who picked this verse for our theme this year!
Now, so far, all the voices I have spoken about are pretty much on the positive side….they are all encouraging toward the good. I haven’t talked at all about the voices that we sometimes hear that bring doubt into our minds, the voices that cloud the truth. There are voices that we hear that are not so good for us, maybe even filled with pride or envy or hate. Make no mistake… there is another voice that wants to be heard… one that is not a lover of truth, but rather a voice full of lies. The evil one would like us to turn from God’s truth and get us to think we are orphans rather than children of the most High God. Ephesians 6:12 says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” So how do we discern truth in the voices we hear?
In 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 Paul exhorted the church to “…examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil." 1 John 4 has similar warnings and encouragement to be discerning. Discernment is a gift of the Spirit, and it’s a part of the Christian’s life! We must think biblically about all facets of our life and with the Spirit of God in us we are able to do just that. Discernment can be a trouble spot for Christians. We are often blown to and fro in our thinking like a tumble weed in the wind, easily influenced. How can we be more discerning as we take in the messages of life, the voices in our heads?
Let’s look at 2 Peter 1:3. According to Peter, God’s divine power "has given to us everything we need for a Godly life, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.” We can discern truth through the true knowledge of God. God’s voice… in His word.. gives us hope of a perfect world to come and it gives instruction for us while we are still here on earth.
So then how do we gain increasing knowledge of God?
Pray to the almighty God, the author and perfecter of our faith to give you that knowledge of God’s love that over flows, pray that he will give you the desire to be so full of his love that those around you will see and know God. And listen to God’s voice, and that (of course) means…Read the bible, regularly! Study it, even if Bible is not one of the classes you’re taking next semester.
God’s word has a lot to say about what voices we should listen to. “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Is that verse from Phillipians 4 familiar to you? Good! I’d guess that’s because you’ve heard it repeated many times here at CCA, and it’s profound, and it’s the voice of God. Give God your prime time! Another way to keep God’s truth in your mind is thought music. The passage I read earlier Colossians 3: 16 says “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.”
Do you ever lack focus when you pray and you just can’t seem to get it started? Well, let a worship song come to mind, sing it silently or out loud… doesn’t matter… The song that often comes to my head in such situations is “Create in me a clean heart, oh God. And renew a right spirit with in me. Cast me not away from your presence and take not thy holy spirit from me, Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation and uphold me with thy free spirit then will I teach transgressors thy way and sinners will be converted unto thee, create in me a clean heart, oh God”. That’s a Song from Psalm 51 that I sang with a Girls Trio when I was in High school. I can still hear the harmonizing parts, and the words draw me towards God. You are a musical group, graduates! and I’m sure you have many songs with the gospel message that you can access at a moment’s notice. Use those songs you hear in your head to focus you on God’s truth.
When you go off to college, gather with Christians on Sunday for church. Yes, find a church! Join a campus ministry. Surround yourself with voices that speak truth. Let your mind be full of God’s truth.
I understand from Mr. Lawrenz that during you Jr. year, graduates, you read The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. You may remember one of the better known quotes from that book. It’s in the 4th Chapter where Screwtape says to his demon-in-training named Wormwood: “It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.” Don’t let the Evil One keep God’s voice out of your mind!
In his letter to the Hebrews, Paul spoke God’s word inChapter 4 verses 23 and following, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Graduates, let me take this moment to encourage you to surround yourself with people who will spur you on to love and good deeds, and to encourage you toward truth. Be intentional about what professors you walk closely beside in college, be discerning. That’s what I’ll be praying for you in the coming months and years. Chose friends well, they are the voices you will listen to. Choose good friends.
This isn't just a good idea for teenagers and young adults. All of us, no matter our age or stage in life, must intentionally surround ourselves with people who will encourage us to do good, and to do what is right. Chances are good that you’re going to mess up at some point, you’re going to choose a friend who walks you away from good, and you (as a friend to others) may do that too. I’m so thankful that God give forgiveness freely and that He is a God of redemption who can turn situations around even when we sin and are drawn to darkness.
We should all strive to increase our knowledge of God so we can discern the voices we hear in our heads. And you know what… here’s some great news! God wants us to know about Him. If you pray for wisdom, if you pray for the knowledge of God, if you pray for discernment, God will give it to you.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1:5
Ask God for His truth. Ask God for His wisdom. Ask God to be filled to overflowing with His love so your joy may be complete. So that you may discern truth.
What are the voices you hear?…There’s a lot of voices out there.
Be discerning. Know the truth. Listen to the voice of truth.