“But if not…………………..”
(Commencement address to class of 2009)
Appreciate honor and being asked.
It was 1940 and Hitler and the German armed forces were marching across Europe virtually unchallenged. Nation after nation fell until finally only two countries stood in the way of his goal of complete domination of Europe: France and Great Britain.
France had what was regarded as one of the great armies of the time and most felt the real battle would be fought there. However, Hitler and his forces devastated the French army in 40 days.
Realizing the peril they now faced, the British rushed a force of 350,000 men into the low countries of Europe to stem the German advance into France and countries beyond.
German forces quickly gained the advantage and pushed the British and what little was left of the French forces to the shores of the Atlantic. Huddled in the small French town of Dunkirk the army waited certain fate of literally being pushed into the Atlantic Ocean. It was a perilous and frightening time. All realized if this remaining army was destroyed there would be no resistance to invading England and completing Hitler’s conquest of Europe.
Hearing of the peril of their troops the churches of England called a National Day of prayer. The next day, unexpectedly, Hitler halted his advance on the remaining armies to regroup and restock his troops, confident he could destroy the remaining British and French troops at his leisure.
The British troops knew their position was perilous and almost certain death and destruction awaited within hours. Communication between the troops and their homeland across the English Channel was sporadic as a terrified British public waited to hear the horrible news they knew was coming from their loved ones. Every message received from the doomed troops was fearfully awaited, wondering if this would be the end.
In Britain itself, the mood was turning desperate. Large parts of the population were now calling for surrender to Germany to end the bloodshed and head off a certain German invasion of the British Isles – preferring to live in bondage than die in resistance.
From Dunkirk, a British officer, knowing his fate, sent a message to London. Concluding his brief report on the situation among the troops, he assured his countrymen they would stand and fight to defend the homeland from German occupation. He asked and assured all to pray for a miraculous victory.
And, then he concluded his message with three words: “BUT IF NOT…”
British public immediately recognized and knew the meaning of this 3 word message.
Hearing it galvanized the people to dare and carry out one of the greatest undertakings in all of history. People of all levels, ages, and occupations found any boat or anything that would float, jumped in them and crossed the perilous English Chanel. And over the space of a few days – while the German forces continued to regroup – the British public in an armada unprecedented before or since, was able to rescue 300,000 British and French troops and ferry them to safety to live to fight another day.
This heroic effort helped determine the outcome of the war and buy time until the Americans could enter the conflict. The 3 little words –BUT IF NOT - completely altered the outlook of the British citizens. Considering surrender, they now became resolute. That resolution spurred the immortal speech by perhaps the greatest orator of our time: British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, when with his booming voice he told the House of Commons:
We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and streets, we shall fight in the hills: we shall NEVER surrender.
And, indeed, they did not.
“But if not…” These 3 words galvanized a nation who knew what they were and what they meant. Shamefully, it is doubtful we today would recognize them.
The words are a quote from the book of Daniel and the 3 Hebrew Children as they stood before the fiery furnace of Nebeccassur awaiting their certain fate. Choosing death rather than bow down and worship a false God.
Daniel 3:17-18: “our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king,… BUT.. IF.. NOT be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.”
British people recognized the message and it meaning; even if they did not achieve victory or rescue, they would stand strong and fight until the death! And Churchill recognized its unparalleled call to dedication and sacrifice.
Want to talk few minutes about the life you now face as adults – a life that, let me assure you, will be filled with “But if nots….” And your successes, your ultimate crowns and victories will not solely depend on our education, income or achievements, But on how you respond to the “but, if nots” of life.
As young Christians you know you serve an all-powerful, miracle working, awesome God who holds everything in His hands. You know He can help you overcome any obstacle and win every victory. He can lead to your best college, career and marriage. He can make things go your way. He can leave you with a worry free life.
BUT, IF NOT..the awesome question is “What will your reaction be?”
Not, if, but when, challenges come seemingly for no reason, college doesn’t go your way, marriage falls apart, child taken from you, job disappears, and you say to self, “God can fix all of this right now, just the way I want it to be…” You will hear a still, small voice from within adding, “BUT IF NOT…”
And let me assure you the key to your faith and character will be revealed in your answer to that question. BUT IF NOT… what will I do?
Do you have a faith only as strong as the good things that will come your way? God can solve any problem, lift you over every obstacle, BUT IF NOT…
Some dream of God answering every want and need of one of his children, even claim that by working up enough faith, nothing negative will ever win over you. Careful, better tell that to Apostle Paul as his head is chopped off in a Roman prison; to Apostle Peter as he is crucified upside down at his request since he did not feel worth to die in the same manner as his Savior.
Oh, yes, the BUT IF NOT’s will be there. Go with Jesus to the garden the night before his was to be nailed to a Roman tree to die with the sins of all the world on his back, to become sin for us. Go and hear his plea:
“Luke 22:42 (KJV)
42 Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.
Did you see it? Did you see the BUT IF NOT? “Nevertheless not my will, but yours be done. BUT IF NOT, I will go to the cross as you desire.
Christian history is riddled with times of God miraculously intervening to rescue and relieve saints. But, many more times where we, not being able to know God’s will or plan have cried out and seemingly no answer came. Burned at the stake, drug to the Roman Coliseum to be torn apart by wild animals while they prayed for rescue, but, regardless, willing to die if need be for their God. Nearly every soldier who has died fighting for his country has likely called out for rescue, but added in his heart…BUT IF NOT…
(Tell story of Billy Graham and his kids) Could have discouraged him. He could have been ashamed to show his face in public. This great man of God, this best known religious leader in the world, this man voted, “Most admired man in the world” could have let the problems defeat him. But, long ago he had come to and faced his “But, if not” moment and determined his answer to be, “I will serve God anyway, no matter what life may throw at me.”
My wife and I had our “But, if not” moment sitting in a doctor’s office. The doctor came in and calmly said to my wife, “You have multiple myeloma. It is a form of cancer. There is no cure.”
There will be many times in your life when, in desperation or discouragement, tragedy, failure, sickness, or death, you cry out to God, knowing he is able to give you all you want, maybe even in faith that He will. And, as you cry out, the Holy Spirit whispers BUT IF NOT.. How will you answer? Then and only then will your true faith be revealed. Then and only then will others, and more importantly, you know what your relationship with God and the depth of your faith is really like.
Now, as enter next phase of life, time to settle where you are with God. How will you answer the BUT IF NOT’s of life?
I have a feeling the biggest crowns and greatest rewards in eternity will not go to those who received the greatest acclaim and success, but to those who with greatest faith, dedication and courage answered the BUT IF NOT’s of life: “BUT IF NOT I will still love you, still serve you, still worship you.
Because it will be they, not the superstars who most deserve the crowns.
May that be your determination and destiny.