Commencement Address
Berkshire Institute for Christian Studies
May 11, 2019 • 10:00 AM

President Rice, Vice President Tuttle, Members of the Board of Directors, Faculty, Alumni, Friends of BICS, Brothers and Sisters of Hope Church, Families of the Graduates and the Class of 2019:

 Pop open your umbrellas, catch the Berkshire breeze and soar with me to the skies over Israel. If you dare, look down on the valley crossroads, the mountain passes, the river fords, the desert trails, snow-capped Hermon, cities on the hills, the green agriculture, the turquois-blue Mediterranean, the ruins of the Romans, the heart-shaped Lake Kinneret, Ein Gedi’s waterfall, Jericho’s walls, and the gleaming limestone of the Holy City. 

Float down to climb the high ground for the vistas and views. Smell the flowers. Shuffle through the cities. Ride a gangly “ship of the desert”. Sail on the Galilee. Float on the Salt Sea. Taste the fish. Eat a salad. Sample the citrus. Enjoy a falafel. Slurp an ice cream (Mike is buying). But above all walk the ancient paths to remember the story—the big story of God’s love.

Two thousand-seven hundred years ago Jeremiah the prophet essentially offered the same advice to Judah. The Ancient Near East, recently rid of the cruel Assyrians, now faced the mendacity and mercilessness of Babylon.  The people of the covenant had already suffered three hundred years, having rejected the grace of God freely offered in the law of Moses and manifested in the Davidic kingdom. Yet, He loved them still. 

The Lord, through the prophet, pleaded with them to remember the Divine promises to Abraham 1300 years earlier:

Thus says the Lord:

“Stand by the roads, and look,

and ask for the ancient paths,

where the good way is; and walk in it,

and find rest for your souls.”

Jeremiah 6:16

What made for good advice then makes for good advice now. It is, after all, the Word of God. 

In this one verse there are four imperatives and one promise. Let’s take them up one by one. (I know, you are thinking about that delicious brunch that awaits in the gym, but come on, this is a graduation, you have to endure the speech!!).

Many of you in the room this morning have travelled with BICS to Israel. If you haven’t, you should. Connecting the biblical narratives to the land, while not mystical, enlarges perspective and deepens theology. That is why God exhorted the people of Jeremiah’s day to reconnoiter the Promised Land. He wanted them to consider antecedent truth to fortify faith. You see, the future depends on getting things right in the present by understanding the design of history from the Divine perspective. Two components are necessary to get things right: history and revelation.  And like it or not (and many people do not like it) both are interwoven in the history of the Promised Land and the revelation of the Bible.

 With this in mind, let’s be clear. The Lord’s imperatives and promise were not an invitation to take a Bible lands tour but a solicitation to receive blessing in this life and the life to come. So, come with me as we stand, look, ask and walk on the crossroads and ancient paths. Let us discern something so extraordinary we may have to expand our theological vocabulary.

Jeremiah understood that future success depended on old certitudes. The command of the Lord was to “stand.” We must not miss the import of this command, for it reflected back on the promise He made to Abraham under the stars. As the patriarch gazed upward into the night sky, God vowed to bless him with uncountable offspring through an Heir yet to come. In that moment of faith in the Lord, Abraham was reckoned as righteous. 

From that time on every subsequent generation even into our day should have pondered how it is that a person can access the righteousness of God. “Stand with Abraham” was Jeremiah’s command in 700 BC. But, alas, his generation would not be steeled in the antecedent theology of righteousness by faith. The boots of the Babylonians would seal their doom.

Today, these BICS students stand at a crossroad. So, do we all. In Whom or on what will we take our stand?

Next, the Lord told His people to “look.” We must understand how the universe works. That is what the philosophers call a worldview. Jeremiah labored forty years with scant success to convince Judah and the remnant of the northern tribes to “look” or review history to discern one central reality. God created and designed the universe to bring glory to Him. 

Of course, we all perceive that something went wrong. The confusion arises when the philosophers (and who among us does not philosophize at least a little?) try to explain what happened. Evil is real and so is its Patron. We see it, we feel it. People rationalize it away to their detriment. “Don’t reject God!”, cried Jeremiah. At the crossroad, answer one question: If not God, what? Sin and destruction? Each generation must choose. Then, the nation’s choice led to deportation and harps hanging on willows in Babylon.

Yes, you must develop a worldview that explains reality, inclusive of the natural and supernatural. BICS believes this so ardently that we begin to address the matter of worldviews on day one. 

Jeremiah is famous for speaking the word of the Lord. He used the phrase “Thus says the Lord” or similar phrases 157 times out of the 349 times the locution was used in the Old Testament. That is significant when we understand the Word of the Lord is the foundation of reality.

The third imperative in Jeremiah 6:16 was to “ask for the ancient paths” identified as the “good way”. One of the great projects of education should be to help students learn to use tools to acquire wisdom over his or her a lifetime. But it is useless to show people how to access wisdom if they will not seek it. That was the problem in Jeremiah’s day. The people were not asking; they did not inquire. They did not intend to build the country for the national good or the glory of God. In essence, they did not pray.

People not only need to stand on the high ground to get the big picture, they must also discover the pathways that lead through the valleys and over the mountains. It is one thing to arrive in the Berkshires on I-90, it is another thing to find the lakes and ponds where big bass hide in the weeds. To find the big fish you have to ask for the ancient paths into the woods. To get a fisherman to reveal those secrets you must understand the importance of asking…and asking…and asking.

The BICS logo reveals a tree encased in a shield. The tree reminds us of the Berkshire forest but more importantly the metaphorical tree planted by streams of waters in Psalm 1. The shield is the Bible. Together the tree and the shield point to Wisdom nourished in soil watered by the streams that flow from the living Word of God. The two work together, Wisdom and the Word. You can’t have one with the other. But you can have them both, if you ask.  Pray for Wisdom as you study of the Bible.  Decisions at the crossroads depend on Wisdom and the Word. 

The final imperative in Jeremiah was to “walk.” Instinctively, we recognize the metaphor has to do with the way we work things out each day. Like it or not we have to make choices; we have to get up and get out there. That is what it means to walk in biblical parlance. Furthermore, Jeremiah exhorted his kinsmen to walk in the “good way.” In other words make the right choices. Glorify God out of the resources of righteousness, the worldview and wisdom you acquire by seeking God in study and prayer. 

The best way to understand God’s will is to think this way: whatever is revealed directly in Scripture or what is implied in biblical principles ought to inform our choices, especially in situations that are morally unclear or seem inconsequential. 

Whatever the case, we must live with intentionality to glorify the Lord in every activity. This Jeremiah’s countrymen did not want to do. They simply fell through on the follow through. Because of their failure to walk in the good way, they had bad outcomes. Walking in the Lord is managing our time, our money, our relationships, our service, our work, our homes, our ministries and our everything for the glory of God. Another way to think about this imperative is to love God with all your heart, mind and strength.

Those are the four imperatives but what about the promise?  The Bible is full of promises and if one thinks about them long enough, a realization sets in -- all the promises, when collected and analyzed, focus on a single promise radiating God’s love. Jeremiah promised “you will find rest for your souls.”

In chapter 31 he lasers in on the allusion to rest in chapter 6.  

“Look, the days are coming…when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. … “I will put My teaching within them and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people. No longer will one teach his neighbor or his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least to the greatest of them…For I will forgive their wrongdoing and never again remember their sin.” 

Here is powerful theology. For in this promise of a new covenant Jeremiah preaches the Good News. A day will come when the Lord will write His law on human hearts. Here, the promise was for us not, just Israel and Judah. A day would come when sins will be forgiven and remembered no more. 

So, Jesus held up the cup at the last supper and said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26:28).

There it is, there is the rest for the soul. Jesus, the Heir promised to Abraham, the righteous Ancestor of the patriarch died on the cross. He was righteous so His sacrifice would atone for sin. Abraham believed the promise and was declared righteous ahead us, just as we may believe the promise and be counted righteous after him. In Jesus, God clears away the death-curse of sin. In him we find access to God, for the wages of sin have been paid.

 But there is something more. Jesus died for us in order that He might live in us. That is what the prophet revealed. God would put His law in our hearts. How? By delivering to us the life of Jesus, the Law-keeper, through the indwelling Holy Spirit. That’s what it means to be born again. Cleansed by the blood we are energized by the Spirit. And where the Spirit of the Lord is there is life “for the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor. 3:6).

Graduates, hear again the Word of the Lord:   

“Stand by the roads, and look,

and ask for the ancient paths,

where the good way is; and walk in it,

and find rest for your souls.”

So, let’s get on with it. Diplomas, congratulations, feasting and good times. Jesus is here with us. Let’s rest in Him. 

One more thing. What we have considered just now is so magnificent, so powerful, so conscience-clearing, so liberating, so real, so hopeful, so exhilarating you can close those umbrellas. You won’t need them where you are going because the Gospel is…say it with me…



Class of 2019 - The Berkshire Institute for Christian Studies

Class of 2019 - The Berkshire Institute for Christian Studies

The Beauty of the Holy Land

The Beauty of the Holy Land