We raised you to leave us. It’s not natural for you to stay in the nest forever. We want to fly, to mount up with wings as eagles.

For the graduating class of 2006, life is about to change a very dramatic way. I know you are excited about spreading your wings and maybe a little apprehensive. As your parents, other relatives, teachers, coaches, religious instructors and mentors, most of our shaping process with you is over. Oh yes, for us parents, as long as we are paying the bills, we’ll insist on having our say in your affairs. But the truth of the matter is that our greatest window of opportunity to influence you has closed.

We stand by now, to watch, to cheer, to encourage, to motivate you when can, to befriend, to support and to discipline when it’s appropriate. But now, more than ever, the heights you reach will rest on how well you live out what you’ve been taught and in some cases whether you unlearn some things you’ve been taught but in all cases how well you follow the Great Teacher, Jesus Christ our Lord.

As you spread your wings, here are a few parting facts to remember:

Not all birds fly, not even all birds with feathers. The Wright Brothers didn’t lift off at Kitty Hawk by accident. It not only took dreams. It took intelligence, hard work, disappointments, crashes, ridicule from others and sacrifice before success finally came.

We know you want to fly. But it’s not guaranteed. It takes more than a dream. No bird ever flew without flapping its wings. No bird ever flew without leaving the nest. But as you discover your wings, you will be tempted to use them for your pleasure and gratification only.

Good parents haven’t raised children for a self-indulgent life. We’ve raised you to make a difference in this world. We’ve raised you to love others. We’ve raised you to help others. Your life is not your own. It has been bought with a price. Live your life as if you owe something to the one who died for you, because you do.

Not all birds fly. Not all birds that fly, fly smart. Have you ever seen a flock of black birds flying in formation? When they migrate, they don’t fly smart like a flock of geese. They tire quickly and have to find refuge in trees for rest

Contrast that to a flock of geese. As they fly in a V-pattern, they slice through the air. The pattern creates lift. The birds take turns rotating to the front because the lead bird expends more energy. This gives the birds in the back an opportunity to conserve energy. As they fly, they honk encouragement to each other.

As you fly away from home, fly smart. Wear a seatbelt, always. Take care of your bodies. Remember, your body is the temple of the Lord. The Apostle Paul wrote: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your body.”

Exercise. Stay away from all drugs, including alcohol. When you become of legal age, then you can form a more adult opinion about alcohol and its use, weighing it alongside your Christian convictions and your understanding of scripture.

Despite the fact that well more than 8 percent of college students use alcohol, it is illegal for those under 21 and the cause of a large majority of criminal problems and social problems on college campuses.

Maintain a high standard of sexual ethics. You live in a world where sex sells and where the message is conveyed that if you aren’t having sex or haven’t had sex, then you are a freak of nature. Trust the Lord on this one. He made us sexual beings, He knows. He made a sexual relationship to be an enjoyable experience for a husband and a wife. Might it also be pleasurable outside of that context? Yes. But it comes with a price. I encourage you to make your wedding night special. Don’t carry the memories of relationships that mean nothing or relationships that you thought would last. Fly smart, honor God with your body.

When people ask you why you make such choices, remember Peter’s words: “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.

Not all birds fly. Not all birds that fly, fly smart. Finally, remember, not all smart flying birds make it through bird season.

As you leave the nest, realize that evil is real and wants to consume you. The Apostle Paul said:

“For we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against persons without bodies-the evil rulers of the unseen world, those mighty satanic beings and great evil princes of darkness who rule this world; and against huge numbers of wicked spirits in the spirit world. So use every piece of God’s armor to resist the enemy whenever he attacks, and when it is all over, you will still be standing up. But to do this, you will need the strong belt of truth and the breastplate of God’s approval. Wear shoes that are able to speed you on as you preach the Good News of peace with God. In every battle you will need faith as your shield to stop the fiery arrows aimed at you by Satan. And you will need the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit-which is the Word of God.”

You’ll be packing for college soon or preparing for the work force. As you do, will you carry with you the belt of truth, the breastplate of God’s approval, the shield of faith, and the helmet of salvation? It sounds like a lot to fly with but the Lord is the one capable of making our burdens light and giving us the ability to mount up with wings as eagles. Wait on Him. You waited 12 years to graduate from high school. I know you have the ability to wait upon the Lord. Only then will we ever discover just how high we can really fly.

Michael Helms is pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Moultrie, Ga. His column appears in The Moultrie Observer.

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