(The following is an expanded version of the speech I gave at this year’s CU Scholar Dessert Reception.)
The first thing I ever decided about Cedarville University was that I would not, under any circumstances, attend. Since my administrator’s son, Drew Flamm, worked in admissions at CU, I had been inundated since before I could remember with calls to become a yellow-jacket, and out of sheer stubbornness of heart, I refused.
Almost seven years later, and I stand before you all with the hopes of graduating next May. What changed? Well, for starters, God’s grace was, well, irresistible for even a stubborn high school student named Joshua Steele. While I don’t have time now to recount all the details, suffice it to say that receiving this scholarship was the final capstone of a tumultuous and miraculous college search process. I offer my sincerest thanks to the members of the selection committee. I stand before you now on nothing but a mountain of God’s grace, of which your generosity has been no small portion.
As I near the end of my Cedarville experience, two things have made my journey thus far particularly unforgettable and life-changing:
Firstly, at Cedarville I met and fell in love with my wife, Rachel. That’s right, we met in Up-Chucks the first time my freshman unit got the chance to meet our Printy sisters. It wasn’t love at first sight, but it was love pretty darn quick. Together we’ve been Getting Started Leaders, served as brother/sister RAs, worked together at summer camp, completed a marathon… and now we’re lifelong partners in the pursuit of God’s grace and shalom. I don’t care if this sounds trite to some, falling in love with my girlfriend, fiancée, and now wife has been the most rewarding-yet-challenging aspect of my time here at Cedarville. I can’t wait to see how God uses us for his kingdom in the future.
Now, I’m not saying that everyone in here has to find a husband or wife and get married during their time here at Cedarville. Furthermore, and this is especially for the underclassmen, I hope that your Cedarville experience is somehow better than mine. But could I encourage you all to do the second thing that’s made my Cedarville experience unforgettable?
At Cedarville I fell in love with the Gospel and learned how big God’s redemptive mission is. I changed my major from Mechanical Engineering to Preseminary Bible because, by God’s grace at the time I finished high school, I was sick of pretending like the Gospel was a shallow flow-chart or bullet-pointed list that could be pulled off the shelf and employed in a five-minute conversation in order to “make a new Christian.”
I knew that something was wrong, and I wanted to devote my years at Cedarville to learning more about the Gospel in order someday to be better able to preach that good news to others. While I’ve only just begun to scratch the surface, I have learned a few important things during my time here, things that have made the Gospel all the more precious to me.
And I owe many of these lessons to the godly professors who have poured into my life, (directly or indirectly), whose vision for God’s redemptive mission I have been privileged to “catch.” People like TC Ham, John White, Carl Smith, Jeff Cook, David Mills, Chris Miller, Dan Estes, Joel Williams, Tim Gombis, and Michael Pahl.
See it’s frighteningly easy to slice and dice the missio Dei, the mission of God, into dilapidated pieces. We want the moralistic “holiness” slice, the private piety chunk, the ticket to escape from hell-fire, the perfect precision in doctrinal orthodoxy, and the list goes on.
None of these are bad things, but when we act as if they’re the main thing, we fragment the Gospel, which fragments the Church, and we’re left with nothing but a shadow of the gloriously good news that, in Christ, God is reconciling the world to himself.
That is, God is “heading-up” all things, things on heaven and things on earth,
…the Jews and the Gentiles
…the rich and the poor
…the Regular Baptists and the Southern Baptists
…the Presbyterians and the Catholics
…the angry fundamentalists and the crazy liberals
…the black and the white
…the “have”s and the “have-not”s
…”us” and “them”
ALL THINGS, THINGS ON HEAVEN AND THINGS ON EARTH,
in His Son, who has defeated Sin and Death, and whom we proclaim as King, Messiah, Savior, and Lord over the entire universe.
These truths can unify us, as Jesus prayed for in John 17. They can radically change the way we see God, other human beings, the universe around us, and even the way we see ourselves.
But they can also alter the life of the son of a bricklayer and a homemaker from Toledo, OH, who has no other reason for his unforgettable Cedarville experience than the sheer grace of God alone.
I’m glad I was with you during part of your journey. And I’m blessed that I also learned more about God’s mission as we walked together.
Thanks, brother. I sure do miss you, man!