In this Ambassador Bible College commencement address, Darris McNeely discusses how ‘running with the horses’ is a personal challenge to live a life of faith with God at the center.
[Darris McNeely] Good afternoon everyone. Thank you very much, class, for that beautiful music. I, too, would like to extend my thanks to all of you parents that sent your children here for us to teach this year at ABC. It’s always a pleasure to be able to build on the foundation of the work that is done in the home when students come for the Bible classes here. It’s a great honor and we’ve enjoyed having them here.
There’s something that I learned years ago in the camp director school called, “in loco parentis,” which basically means when your kids come to camp, the staff and the camp directors are basically the parents in charge for that particular time. It’s kind of like at ABC: we are parents to the students that come every year and we learn to love them, we feed them spiritually, we feed them food here and in our homes and we really do grow to appreciate them and to care for them, and again, all the work that you have done. But there comes a time, and so please take them back home now. [audience laughs] We’re ready to let you have them back.
But before we let them go, I have a few things to say to them. The rest of you can listen in to what I have to say here this afternoon. So to the Ambassador Bible College class of 2017, let’s get right to the point. At ABC this year, I gave you three keys to success at ABC. Show up and know your lines. Get engaged. We don’t mean this kind, although that might happen for a few. And thirdly, to take notes on the world; there will be a test. And you honored me by giving me a gift the other night with those three sayings etched on glasses, and they will take an honored place in my man cave and I will appreciate that very much.
But today I am going to give you a fourth key. The key to success beyond ABC, and someday you’ll have to come back and give me a fourth glass. Here it is, key number four: run with the horses. If you learn to run with the horses, you will have a key to a life of excellence, a life that takes you through the doors of experience and upon the high places of life. If you learn to run with the horses, you will create a life with no regrets and no “what might have beens.”
If you learn to run with the horses you will live an extraordinary life, full of faith. You will know God at the center of your life, which is where it should be. And with God leading you along the paths of experience, the hills of decision, the mountains of adversity, and the valleys of doubt, you will discern God’s direction, always through His Holy Spirit.
If you learn to run with the horses, you will live with a confidence born from the purpose God gives each of us, to be created in His image as sons and you will have the confidence to get out of bed every morning, and make a difference in your life and the lives of people that you love, the people that you touch. You may not change the world, but if you learn to run with the horses, the world will not overcome you.
You’ve come to Ambassador Bible College to expand your knowledge of the Word of God. We’ve taken you through the Scriptures and we’ve taught you many things, and now, as you go out the door and on to the rest of your life, I have a challenge for you. Will you settle for less than the life that God intends for you? After you weigh all the options, will you choose life, that you may live? Will you count the cost to see if you have enough to finish? Will you decide to run with the horses?
There’s one biblical story that you spent some time with this year that we should revisit for a brief moment here this afternoon. It’s a story of a man called to do a remarkable thing. He was called when he was young, like you, and he spent his years living by faith. Of all the prophets that we encounter, we probably have more detailed information about the man and who he was and what he thought and what he did than any other. I’m talking about the prophet Jeremiah.
My favorite lesson for Jeremiah’s life is found in the twelfth chapter. Jeremiah is very tired. He’s facing what we call burnout. His friends and his fellow countrymen have rejected his message. Jeremiah blames God. He thinks God has tricked him through his calling. Jeremiah is on the verge of quitting. Instead of continuing in a life of faith, Jeremiah thinks about changing his beliefs. Instead of continuing as a prophet, Jeremiah is thinking about a career change. Maybe he’ll go and take an aptitude test and retrain for a new career.
Here’s what he said, “Lord, You always give me justice when I bring a case before You, so let me bring You this complaint. Why are the wicked so prosperous? Why are people so happy? You’ve planted them and they have taken root and prospered. Your name is on their lips, but You are far from their hearts. But as for me Lord, You know my heart, You see me and test my thoughts. Drag these people away like sheep to be butchered, set them aside to be slaughtered. How long must this land mourn? Even the grass in the fields has withered; wild animals and birds have disappeared because of the evil in the land, for the people have said, ‘The Lord doesn’t see what’s ahead for us.’”
It was a rather sad mournful complaint, but here’s what God said back to Jeremiah. He said, “Jeremiah, if racing against mere men makes you tired, how will you race with the horses? If you stumble and fall upon the ground, what will you do in the thickets near the Jordan?” It’s a remarkable statement—it’s a challenge actually, in that question to Jeremiah. You see, Jeremiah is fearful at this moment, kind of like the prophet Jonah was. Jeremiah is ready to turn back, like John Mark did, with the apostle Paul in that first journey. Jeremiah is absorbed by self-pity, like Elijah was after his confrontation with the prophets of Baal. Jeremiah is ready to die early and yet continue living for years with bitterness, envy, and anger. And God says, “Run with the horses.”
What does it mean to run with the horses? Let’s explore that for a moment. To run with the horses means to run toward life. It means persevering. Oh, it would be easier to quit, to retire, or to throw up your hands and just let someone else do it. To run with the horses means to stay at your post, even when you find that most are not listening and would rather kick back and play video games. It means to resist sin and to overcome, because the Kingdom of God is taken by those who are determined, fierce, full of righteous zeal. It means to attack the gates of hell and prevail against the forces of evil that are running loose in this world. It means to live within the divine purpose and meaning that God has placed before you.
Now, God tells Jeremiah, “If you can’t compete with mere men who are consumed with their petty small worlds, then how will you be able to stand up when real life and its real challenges come?”
Jeremiah was doing what a lot of us do. He was letting people get to him. He was letting people live rent-free in his head. He was letting the normal, everyday challenges drag him down. God was saying, “There are bigger and stronger forces to contend with, and you better get ready.”
Jeremiah was talking too much to himself and not enough to God. When we start talking to ourselves, we get into conversations that are circular and downward. We can talk ourselves out of courage, we can talk ourselves out of confidence, we can talk ourselves into doubt, and even into fear.
Life is rich, life is beautiful, life is challenging, and life sometimes will be difficult. But as you leave Ambassador Bible College with your Bibles marked, colored, margins full of notes, know that that is but the first step in the long process of God writing His Word on your heart.
How does God write on our heart? Well, He does it by His Holy Spirit, He does it by His living Word, He does it also by the experiences that we have. And let me tell you, you’ve got some experiences ahead of you. Let’s look at a few. You will hit some walls in life and you will be tempted to quit—don’t. You’ll find reason to blame others for a setback that might come—don’t. You will slip in your good intentions and you’ll find that you’re not quite as far along in your faith as you may have thought at that time; you might think it’s not worth it—don’t give in. Decide to run with the horses.
Many of your generation delay commitments. Making commitments and moving on to the next phase of life is just part of being a grown up. So at the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, let me offer you a few thoughts. It will be easier to stay with mom and dad longer than you should—don’t. It will be easier to move back home when you lose a job—don’t. It will be easier to hang with your friends in the “bro” house when you should be building your own barn for your own future—don’t. It will be easier to be a parasite—don’t. Instead, run with the horses.
It will be easier to be fearful, it will be easier to live with anger, it will be easier to be neurotic—don’t. Learn to run with the horses.
Garrison Keillor, whose long-running radio show called “A Prairie Home Companion” described a fictional place called Lake Woebegone. The town had kids that he said were a little bit above average. It will be easier to settle for the minimum. It’ll be easier to do just enough to get by. It’ll be easier to settle for just a little bit above average—don’t. Run with the horses.
At another time, when God was beginning to work with Jeremiah, He said these words to him, words that really fit us today. “God said to Jeremiah, ‘I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born, I set you apart and appointed you as My prophet to the nations.’ ’Oh sovereign Lord,’ I said, ‘I can’t speak for You. I’m too young.’ The Lord replied, ‘Don’t say, “I’m too young,” for you must go wherever I send you and say whatever I tell you. And don’t be afraid of the people, for I will be with you and I will protect you. I, the Lord, have spoken.’ Then the Lord reached out, He touched my mouth, and He said, ‘Look, I’ve put My words in your mouth.’ ‘Today,’ He said, ‘I appoint you to stand against nations and kingdoms. Some you must uproot and tear down, destroy, and overthrow; others you must build up and plant.’”
Now, Jeremiah said he was too young. You might say the same thing. I’ve said that as well in my past years, but God said, “Don’t say you’re too young. You’ll go where I send you, say what I tell you to say, and I’ll be with you and I will protect you.” “You will stand against nations,” is what God said to Jeremiah. Now that’s really big stuff, to stand against nations. Stuff like that, it’s not for the faint of heart, not for the person who will run at the first sign of resistance, discomfort, or difficulty.
You see, God’s called you in a time to build and to plant. Today, the Church is being prepared as a bride. Our statement on this building as we walk in and out of it every day, it says that we are preaching the gospel and preparing the people. You know, the United Church of God is hiring and training. We really need to put a sign on the front door that says, “Now hiring. Those who want to run with the horses, apply within.”
Here’s what you should remember: God has a plan for your life. And here at ABC, you’ve learned about that plan. God has a purpose and a plan for you greater than anything that you can imagine; it is to be a co-heir with Jesus Christ in eternity. God knows you with all of your strengths and all of your weaknesses, and He says to you that you can make it. You can run the race and you can win.
Here’s what God said at another time to Jeremiah. He said, “Build homes and plan to stay. Plant gardens and eat the food they produce. Marry, have children, then find spouses for them so that they may have many grandchildren. Multiply; don’t dwindle away. I’ll come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again. For I know the plans I have for you, and they are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In these days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for Me wholeheartedly, you will find Me. I will be found by you.” Take that passage, take that passage as a promise from God to you. Claim it. Take it to God in prayer. Cash it in, and live with confidence, and live with courage. Live in joy and live in love, live with faith and live with hope. To have faith, to keep hope alive, to hold firm to the love of God, you have to run with the horses.
You are the eighteenth class to graduate at Ambassador Bible College. From this day forward, we will see you really as a picture on our hallway out here. Now, we’re going to pass your picture a dozen times a day. Occasionally, we’ll pause and we’ll look at your class picture. Wse’ll look and we’ll remember. What might we remember about the class of 2017?
We’ll remember the hands going up, asking questions. I will remember trying to teach the 70-weeks prophecy. [audience laughs] We will remember Chris quoting Scripture, and of course, we will remember Joni’s smile. We’ll never forget Gabriel’s exuberant laugh [audience laughs], Sonia’s quizzical expression, and Josue’s courageous speech. And this dude will remember Noah. [audience laughs and applauds] We will remember the kids from the Northwest. We’ll never forget the Aussies.
And we will remember you as an exceptional class. We expect to hear about your successes. We want to hear of your marriages and the birth of your children. We want to hear of your noble careers. We want to hear of your positive impact to your congregations. We want to know that you continue in the faith.
A disciple is always a student: learning, studying, and growing in the faith. Don’t count this time at Ambassador Bible College as the sum of knowledge; it’s only the beginning. As you graduate, let me leave you with a blessing on behalf of the faculty and the staff at Ambassador Bible College. It’s a paraphrase of the apostle Paul’s blessing to the elders at Ephesus, out of Acts 20:32 Acts 20:32And now, brothers, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.
American King James Version×.
So now students, we commend you to God and to the Word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
Now, go run with the horses.