5/4/19 ASHLAND, Ohio – Dr. Rick Warren, founder and senior pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., talked to Ashland University students about “the second most important question in life” in his address at AU’s spring commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 4.
The commencement was held outside under cloudy skies at Jack Miller Stadium in the University’s Schar Athletic Complex.
In his speech, Warren said the most important question in life is – “What have you done with my son Jesus Christ? God will ask you that one day.” But he noted that the second most important question in life is out of Exodus Chapter 3, the question that Moses is asked by God – “What is in your hand?”
“In just a minute you are going to walk across this stage and they will put a diploma in your hand. And you are going to walk off with a diploma in your hand. But there is so much more in your hand than you realize,” he said.
Warren explained that in Exodus Chapter 3, Moses is 80 years old and he is tending sheep in the desert. God asks Moses what is in his hand, and Moses replies, it is a shepherd’s staff. God tells him to throw it down and when he throws it down it comes alive and it becomes a snake. And God tells him to pick it up and when he picks it up, it dies and it becomes a stick again.
“That has got to be one of the weirdest stories in the entire Bible,” he said. “What in the world does that mean and what is the significance of that story.”
Warren continued, “I want to submit to you that that is actually one of the most significant stories in the entire Bible. That if that had not happened, we wouldn’t have the Old Testament, we wouldn’t have the Ten Commandments, we would not have the nation of Israel and we would not have the Messiah Jesus Christ if that had not happened.”
He said God is trying to teach Moses a very important lesson.
“The secret of the answer of the question, what is in your hand, is to understand the significance or symbolism of the staff. Because the staff represents three things in Moses’ life and it also represents three things in your life,” he said.
Warren said the staff represents Moses’ identity – it represents who he is. He is a shepherd and the symbol of being a shepherd is a shepherd’s staff – a symbol of his occupation and his identity.
The shepherd’s staff also is a symbol of Moses’ influence. Because the purpose of a staff is to move sheep, to influence them from point A to point B. The instrument by which he has influence in the world. It is how he moves what is in his life to the right place and right direction. So the shepherd’s staff is not just his identity but his influence, he said.
The third thing his staff represents is his income, he noted. Because that is how he made his living. In those days you knew how wealthy a person was by how many animals he had. It represents his income because his entire wealth is tied up in his flock -- sheep or goats or whatever.
“God is saying, I want you to give me your identity and I want you to give me your influence and I want you to give me your income. And if you will give that to me and you will submit it to me, I will make it come alive. That which is dead will come alive and will do miraculous things,” he said. “But like Moses, every time you take it back, every time you pick it up, it’s just going to turn into an old stick again. It’s just going to die. And it’s just an ordinary stick.”
He continued, “So, I’m asking you Class of 2019, what’s in your hand. You’re going to walk off this stage with a diploma that represents an enormous amount of work that you’ve put into it. And it is a key to your future. And the more education you get the more opportunities you will have in life, there is no doubt about that. But I want to say to you – what’s your staff.”
Warren then asked the graduates – “what is your identity, what is your influence, who are you influencing? Everybody has influence. You have far more influence than you realize.”
He continued, “You are going to make an income from the skills that you’ve learned while here at Ashland. If you will give those things to God, if you will surrender them to God, if you will submit them to God, if you say like Moses, I am going to lay that down, God will make it come alive and he will do miracles in your life. Things you never thought possible…If you surrender everything to God, he will take it and use it.”
“So my challenge to you is this – when you walk across this stage you realize that you are not just getting a diploma but you need to think about all the things that God has put in your hands – your identity, your influence and your income – all from the future. Submit it to God and he will make it come alive. He will do miracles in our life,” he said.
Often called "America's most influential spiritual leader," Warren is a pastor, global strategist, theologian and philanthropist. In 1980, Warren and his wife Kay were just 26 years old when they founded Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., with their infant daughter Amy and one other family.
His New York Times best-selling book, The Purpose Driven Life, has sold more than 50 million copies and has been translated into more than 100 languages.
Following the commencement address, the presentation of degrees was handled by President Dr. Carlos Campo and Interim Provost Dr. Todd Marshall. A total of 809 degrees (272 graduate and 537 undergraduate) were awarded in the spring 2019 ceremony, including 4 doctor of education, 3 doctor of nursing, 89 master of education, 145 master of business administration, 27 master of arts, 4 master of science, 101 bachelor of arts, 1 bachelor of fine arts, 109 bachelor of science, 2 bachelor of science in athletic training, 74 bachelor of science in business administration, 88 bachelor of science in education, 62 bachelor of science in nursing, 13 bachelor of science in social work, and 87 associate of arts.