Palm Beach Atlantic University
2013 Spring Commencement
May 4, 2013
Introduction of Eric Metaxas by Rev. Cuteo:
I’ve been asked to introduce our speaker, but I’ve been getting a lot of texts and I want you to know graduates that this event is for Chapel credit. Eric Metaxas is the author of the New York Times number one best seller Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, which was named 2012 Book of the Year. His biography has been called one of “uncommon power.” He was the keynote speaker at the 2012 National Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC, an event attended by the President, the First Lady, the Vice President, members of Congress, and other US and world leaders. Other keynote speakers have included Mother Teresa, Bono, and Tony Blair. This is when I first noticed the gift of Eric Metaxas. He’s brilliant. If you Google him you’ll see that he astutely provided President Barack Obama with his books for a nice photo op and so, Mr. Metaxas, I’ve brought a copy of my unpublished dissertation and I want a picture of that afterwards. Seriously.
He’s currently the voice of BreakPoint radio, a daily commentary that’s broadcast in over 14,000 radio outlets to an audience of over 8 million. He was born in New York City in 1963, on his fathers 36th birthday. He grew up in Danbury, Connecticut, attended the public schools there and graduated from Yale University. Not everyone can make it into PBA. He’s the founder and host of Socrates in the City: Conversations on the Examined Life, a monthly event of entertaining and thought-provoking discussions on “life, God, and other small topics.” His most recent book really deals with the crisis of manhood. Seven Men and the Secret of their Greatness speaks about courage under fire and about leadership. It is a must read for those who want to see the impact of the gospel in the lives of leaders. He attends Calvary/St. George’s Episcopal Church and lives in Manhattan New York with his wife and daughter.
PBA family, please join me in welcoming author, speaker, cultural commentator, friend, and brother in Christ, Mr. Eric Metaxas.
Commencement Address by Eric Metaxas:
Thank you, Dr. Cuteo. Wow. Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord. Can you say that here? Praise Jesus. Hallelujah. You can’t say that at some commencements, so I though I’d take full advantage and say it.
Okay, let me pray.
Heavenly Father, we come to you in the mighty name of Jesus Christ and we ask you, Father God, to anoint these words with the fire of Heaven, that they would touch the hearts and minds of Your beloved children, these young men and women. Father, do it to Your glory. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Well I can hardly tell you what an honor this is to me, to be addressing so many of you and especially these young people in front of me. When you’re a commencement speaker it’s quite a different thing from just speaking to some crowd. There’s a special burden to communicate something important.
First of all, I want to thank President Bill Fleming for the invitation, and I want to thank all of you who are here. Some of you may know that I wrote a book on Bonhoeffer, but more of you are interested, I know, in my background as a writer for Veggie Tales [crowd cheers] — and that is of course ridiculous. [Laughter] No, it’s not ridiculous; it gives me great joy; it makes me smile just to think of it. And that happy sound you just made, I really should record that and play it to myself. It’s very encouraging.
Now, I’ve done a lot of different things over the years; I’ve had an odd career [and] you can read about it in your program. I’ve had a strange, eclectic career, but one thing I have never done until today is speak at a college commencement. It is an honor for me to be at Palm Beach Atlantic to do this for the first time in my life and I hope not the last. So thank you.
Since this is the first time I’m speaking to a college class at a commencement, it makes me reflect on my own college commencement which, stunningly, was 29 years ago. That’s not chronologically possible, given my youth — and yet there it is. It doesn’t make sense to me. It was 1984 and I graduated from Yale University. The Class Day speaker that day was Dick Cavett. I’m sure the younger people here have never heard of Dick Cavett, but he was an extraordinary tv personality and I’ve had the privilege, all these years later, of having gotten to know him personally. But back then, I was 20 years old and he was 47. I am now 49 and he’s 76. And the point of this is simply to say that time flies. You will hear that over and over again in your lives. You will yourselves get old, and you will yourselves say that, too. It is a fact of human life and we feel the passage of time as a strange thing because, as C.S. Lewis tells us, we are not made for time. Time is not our medium. We are made for eternity, which is not a lot of time. Eternity is outside of time. Don’t let anybody tell you that eternity in heaven is going to be a really long time; it’s not. Eternity is outside of time entirely. So we’re made for eternity, but here we are now inside time, until we go to glory.
And so time is a strange and uncomfortable thing, and it flies. And if somebody had told me a moment ago, when I was 20, sitting there, listening to Dick Cavett speak, that in a moment I would be older than Dick Cavett was, and that those years would fly, and that the young man named Dick Cavett who was speaking would be 76 in a moment, I could hardly believe it. It’s a staggering thing and I say this to you because life really is short. But you can hardly know that at your age. It’s just too difficult. But I’m telling you to accept it by faith and that it’s true. You will experience it for yourselves.
So that’s a warning to you upfront, that life speeds by, that there’s not as much time as you think and so you need to ask yourselves What do I do with this time, this outrageous gift that God has given me, which we can’t get back? You can’t get a second back, much less a year or a decade. What am I going to do with the time that God has given me? And ultimately of course, that makes you ask: What’s the meaning of life? And that is the burden of a commencement speaker, to answer that question, to sort of sum things up.
So what can I possibly tell you that’s important enough for you, who are here graduating from this great institution? Well, the first thing I can tell you is that life is short and that time flies and therefore you do need to know why you’re here and what the meaning of life is.
When I graduated from Yale, no one was talking about the meaning of life. They really don’t get into that, because it’s a rather hard question, isn’t it? Of course if you take God seriously, you know there is a meaning to life. You’re created by the God of the universe, in His image — it’s a glorious thing — and He wants your life to be dripping with beautiful meaning. Now, theoretically — on paper — I got one of the greatest educations you can get . But I’m here to tell you that that’s absolutely not true. If you don’t know why you’re here and who you are and where you’re going, you cannot really know anything, can you? But at Yale, nobody really asked those questions. Education was essentially only about information. It wasn’t about meaning and truth, because there was this false idea that we had somehow transcended truth. The cultural and educated elites just don’t ask those questions and don’t worry overmuch about truth. To them it’s an old-fashioned concept. So what do you do? If there’s no such thing as Truth? Well, I guess you try to be clever and try not to think about the big questions. Because to think about them is to get uncomfortable.
I often joke that if you don’t know there are good answers to the big questions of life, it’s depressing. So after you graduate you have to distract yourself with a good job for a few decades and then it will all be over. But of course I was an English major, which means that after I graduated I wasn’t able to get a good job and distract myself. I wanted to be a writer, so unfortunately — or fortunately — I had a lot of time to think about the big questions. As I say, if you think there are no answers to the big questions, it’s extremely depressing.
Well, by God’s grace, about four years after graduation, Jesus came into my life in a very dramatic way and changed everything. Hallelujah. But before then I was quite lost.
But I remember at Yale — and it’s still there — if you walk into the main library, it looks like a church or cathedral, you walk all the way into the library to the circulation desk and make a right. There is a cloistered walk and to the left and right there are a number carvings. And there one carving on the left of a student, probably from the 1930’s, who is reading a book, and on the left hand page of the book, carved in stone, thre are three letters: U, R, and the letter A. And on the right hand page it has four letters: J, O, K, and E. Do you get it? It’s sort of summing up the meaning of life, that there is no meaning to life, that it’s all a big joke. The carved student is studying the meaning of it all, of all his studies, and in summation, it’s a joke, so it reads: “You are a joke!” Which is of course sort of funny, sort of clever. But when you think about it it’s also pretty dark. Because if we are cosmic accidents, created by accident through blind forces, and if there is no meaning, what exactly are you studying in college? What’s the point? If life is a joke, your studies and your existence is a mockery of meaning itself. Your studies mock the search for meaning, if there really is no meaning and no truth in the universe. If you evolved out of the primordial soup by accident, and you’re here by accident and you’re going nowhere in particular, then the love you feel for your parents and the love your parents feel for you is just an illusion. It’s just a series of chemical reactions designed to perpetuate the species, but it has no meaning and no transcendence. If you really think about that, it’s unspeakably depressing.
What is it in us that longs for meaning and why do we feel mocked by the idea that there is no meaning? Well, I’ll tell you why. Because we are in fact created by a loving God. We did not get here by accident. That is true and because each of us is created in the Image of God, we long to know Him. Whether we know that or not, we long for that; we long for meaning. If we really think about it, we simply can’t accept the idea that there is no meaning. We’re made to know God — who created us — and to serve Him. And to serve others. So life actually has tremendous, almost infinite, meaning and you need to know that and to live your short life with that in mind. You need to know why you’re here and you need to know God and to know what He has called you to do with your life.
So now that we’ve covered that, let me just give you a few specifics to think about in our short time together.
First of all, in case you didn’t know it, as of today, adolescence is officially over. Now, I say “officially”. Of course it should have been over some time ago, but just in case you were wondering and had perhaps wanted to extend it a little bit, let it be known that as of today, officially, adolescence is over. So if you’re a guy, I’m here to tell you in the name of all the men and women in this room: be a man. And if you study the Greek in scripture, that actually means “no more video games.” I’m sorry it’s over. So be a man. And by the way, being a man means being a gentleman. Today’s the day, in case you’ve been putting it off. Be a man; be a gentleman.
If you’re a female, today is the day to be a woman. So be a woman, and what I mean by that is be a lady. As much as a man must be a gentleman, a woman must be a lady. And spend some time trying to understand what those terms mean, because they’re important.
Now, just bringing that up, in some ways one of the most basic concepts in history — be a man, be a woman –be a gentleman, be a lady — is already in our time in history to be saying something somewhat controversial.
Dr. Cuteo mentioned my new book 7 Men. I wrote it in part because there’s a crisis of this issue in our generation. What does it mean when we say “be a man”? It’s very difficult in this culture to say. We don’t talk about that anymore. We’re uncomfortable with the idea. But I’m here to tell you, those of you who call yourselves Christians, that the Bible is very clear that God created us Male and Female in His image. So those concepts matter to God and they need to matter to us. Our being men and women shows the glory of God and we need to take that seriously. He created us that way for a purpose. And the union of a man and a woman in marriage is a picture of God’s union with His bride. That’s the most glorious thing imaginable. And He has created us in His image to show forth that larger picture, that beautiful picture. It’s an extraordinary concept.
So marriage is not a piece of paper; and marriage is not just some union to make you feel good about yourself with somebody you like. It is a picture of the union of the God of Heaven with His Bride, the Church — that’s what marriage is. That’s what it means to be a man and a woman coming together in marriage. It’s an extraordinary thing and a beautiful thing and obviously we don’t talk about that much either. The church doesn’t really even talk about that, but we really must talk about it because it’s true and it’s important. It’s central to who God is and to who we are.
Now of course, in this day and age, that itself, the very simple thing I just mentioned, which we should all know and understand, has suddenly become controversial. So to be a Christian and to have a biblical worldview of anything — much less sexuality, and marriage and what it is to be a man and a woman — is suddenly controversial.
What that means, of course, is that we have a particular burden as Christian believers today. If you’re graduating today, you’re entering a world dramatically different from the world I entered 29 years ago when I graduated. Today believing those simple things is going to take courage. But God requires you to have courage. He created you to have courage. By the way courage comes from the word coeur – heart. Take heart; have courage; be brave. God says I will give you courage, I will en-cour-age you. He wants us to have courage and to speak the truth in love. If we don’t speak the truth in love it is not truth. And if we don’t say anything, we’re not loving. We are obliged by God to speak the truth in love. There is as, I say, suddenly a situation in our culture where speaking the truth about a biblical view of sexuality or marriage is suddenly controversial. To do so is to go against a rising secular orthodoxy that is suddenly upon us.
Every age has its battles. A little over fifty years ago an Iron Curtain descended over Europe and that was the great battle of that time and of the many decades that followed. But in our age a secular orthodoxy has arisen, and every person of faith is called to battle against false ideas, these false ideas that say we are not glorious creatures created in the image of a loving God, with an eternal purpose to love Him and one another. We are called to fight these false ideas, but we are called to fight utterly differently than the world fights. We’re called to speak the Truth, as I say, in love. We are to love our enemies. This doesn’t mean we don’t have enemies, but we are to love our enemies. We lead with love. It looks very different when you lead with love. We are obliged always to speak the truth in love. Truth is a person. Think about that. For us, truth is not simply a bunch of ideas. Ideas aren’t unimportant to the truth, but scripture says that Truth is more than ideas. Truth is a Person. Capital P. Capital T. Capital J. A Person. Jesus is Truth.
So don’t be merely religious as you approach this world and this life. Religiosity can be a terrible counterfeit of the truth of God. You can be very religious and have the love of Jesus nowhere near you. You can be full of ideas and arguments and you can be right about this or about that when you argue with people, but if people don’t see the love of Jesus Christ and the character of Jesus Christ in you, they’re not interested in what you’re selling. And by the way, if that’s what you’re selling, you’re not selling much. So we’re obliged to fight for the Truth and I say this to you, young men and women, you are coming into a world where this will be a challenge for you. So I want to encourage you that you need to know what is True. You need to know. And then you need to represent it with the love of Jesus Christ.
Now because of the rising secular orthodoxy, as I’ve called it, Religious Freedom is under threat. That’s a new thing in America. We’ve had so much religious freedom we don’t even know what it is, but I’m sorry to say that suddenly religious freedom is being threatened. The legal re-definition of marriage is really an issue of religious freedom. We can talk about sexuality another time, but the real issue on this subject is the issue of religious freedom. Will Christians — will faithful Christians, serious Jews and Muslims — be able to practice their faith out in the world? Or does it become privatized and shoved into buildings to be practiced for a few hours a week, but when you come out, you have to bow to the secular orthodoxy of the state? That’s not freedom of religion. That’s mere freedom of worship, which is no freedom at all. America will die if we don’t have true freedom of religion and this is a battle to which you’re all called. But God will be with you in that battle.
There’s no way you can fight this battle in love, unless you really know who Jesus is, unless you know Him personally, unless you know His love for you, and unless you know — not hope — but actually know that He is real. He’s not a figment of your imagination. He’s not a figment of your parents’ imaginations. He’s not just a nice idea. He’s real. He wants you to know Him in His reality. He wants you to love Him and know His love and forgiveness. He wants you to know that He really did rise from the dead. And you actually can know that. You don’t have to say, “I hope that’s true.” You need to know what you believe. These things are either true or they’re not true. I’m here to tell you they actually are true, and you need to have the confidence of knowing that these things are true. These aren’t just some religious ideas you picked up but, at the end of the day, who knows? You can know these things and I want to encourage you to know that the scripture is true, that the bodily resurrection is true, that these things actually are true. And if you know these things are true and know that God is real, it changes how you walk through this life. And brothers and sisters, it changes your life.
If you really know the God of scripture and you know the Truth of scripture, then you know that this is good news. When you tell people about it, you need to know that you’re not bringing them bad news; it’s good news, the best news in the world. So you shouldn’t have an attitude like “Um, I hate to say this, but I believe that all this is true and I’m somehow obliged to share it with you.” That’s like saying you’re obliged to share food with someone who’s starving, “I hate to give you this bread, but I kind of feel like I’m supposed to.” People are starving for what you have. When you give it to them in love, that is not just good news, it’s the best news. You need to know you have good news. And if what you have is actually bad news, because you’re actually just selling some religious message, then don’t sell it. Figure out what the good news really is so when you share it with people, they might light up and say, “Thank you, I’ve been dying for that!” Because if they’re created in the image of God — and of course everyone is — then they really are dying for that.
And you need to know that what we know is good news is mostly hidden from us in this culture. You’d hardly know it exists. Recently, I saw the movie 42 about Jackie Robinson. It’s a wonderful movie, but they really don’t go into the Christian faith of Jackie Robinson in that movie. That’s because we’re living in a culture right now where the so-called cultural elites and the people in the media just don’t speak that language. So from most of what we watch on our various screens, you get the impression that most people that have been serious about God in history have been fanatics and have largely had a negative effect on things around them. But just the opposite is true and you need to know that.
You need to know the truth of history and the truth is that Jackie Robinson, for example, did what he did because of his faith in Jesus Christ. Branch Rickey, who recruited Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers to break the color barrier in baseball, did it because of his faith in Jesus Christ. Rosa Parks was picked to sit in the back of the bus and to challenge that racist system of her time because of her character and her faith in Jesus Christ. Dietrich Bonhoeffer stood up against Hitler and stood up for the Jews of Germany because of his faith in Jesus Christ. William Wilberforce stood up for the African slaves because of his faith in Jesus Christ. These people loved Jesus. They were not merely religious. They served God and the world was improved by their faith. So you need to know these stories, because we all need to be encouraged. You need to know that if you really know God, you will bless this world. And you need to know the stories of all these men and women who powerfully blessed this world because of their faith in Jesus Christ and you need to tell others about them.
Now, one thing you cannot know is the future. But God knows the future. When you graduate you think “What am I going to do?” Maybe you have some plans. But I can guarantee you that you don’t know the future and trust me, the future is going to throw you some curve balls. Things are going to happen to you that you didn’t count on happening and that you can’t plan for. But God knows the future. So what I want to say to you is that you should simply pray that God would guide you. And I want to tell you — I’m here to tell you — that God wants to guide you more than you want Him to guide you. There’s not some trick you’ve got to figure out. It’s not a puzzle. God is not a tricky God. He strongly desires to guide you and bless you and if your heart says “Father God, lead me in my career, lead me in my life,” I’m here to tell you that He will.
Finally, let me say that there is some scriptures that sort of sum things up and I want to close with them. In Philippians Chapter Four, it says “be anxious for nothing.” Now ladies and gentlemen, if I could leave you with four words instead of all these other words, I’d leave you with those four. When the scripture says “be anxious for nothing” it doesn’t say “be anxious for almost nothing.” It says “be anxious for nothing”. What must God know, that He would command His children to “be anxious for nothing”? He must know something we don’t know because we think there are a lot of good reasons to be anxious. There are going to be so many opportunities for you to be anxious in the years ahead, and I want to tell you, let it be a mark of your faith, that you know what the scriptures say, that the God of scripture says “I love you, and I am with you, and I am commanding you because I love you to be ‘anxious for nothing’. Trust me. Bring your problems to Me in prayer with thanksgiving — and be anxious for nothing.” That lack of anxiety in all circumstances is the ultimate arbiter, my brothers and sisters. That is the ultimate arbiter of your faith.
In life, you’ll have plenty to be anxious about. You’ll see that over and over and over again. But I’m here to tell you, if you remember nothing else, that the scriptures command you to “be anxious for nothing, but with thanksgiving to make your supplications to the Lord.” That’s the kind of God you are serving. Rejoice in Him always, show forth the peace of God and the joy of God, be filled with the gratitude of God. You have the secret at the heart of the universe, that the God of the universe made you and has a plan for you and loves you and wants to use you to bring that message to everyone else.
So yes, life can be hard. But when circumstances get dark — and there will be darkness in our lives — the Lord says it’s okay. “I am with you, I walk with you. Be anxious for nothing and rejoice in Me always.” We’re to look to Him. This is what we’re to do. We’re to look to Him. So as you walk through life, you’re not to look at circumstances. No, we’re suppose to look to Him — to look at Him. He is good. He is love. He is truth. If you look to Him there’s always hope, no matter how dark things get in your life or in history as we move forward.
When I was graduating 29 years ago, I couldn’t know the future. And we cannot know the future now. We don’t know where the United States is going to be 29 years from now. We don’t know when I’m 76 and you’re 50 what the world will be like or what our lives will be like. We don’t know. But we know Jesus is Lord today and He will be Lord then and He is always Lord. Scripture tells us to look to Him. He is our hope. It’s not about winning, it’s about obedience. If you love Him and look to Him and obey Him and ask Him to guide you, there is no doubt that He will be with you and He will bless you. It is my privilege to say these things to you. I pray that the Holy Spirit would put these words deep into your hearts and that you’d be an army of servants of the living God who loves, and blesses.
Father, bless these young men and women, use them mightily for Your eternal glory in the extraordinary lives that you have for them, in the name of Jesus. Amen. God bless you.