Archives For Truth

The Graduation Speech

May 16, 2011 — 1 Comment

[DISCLAIMER: It is 3,299 words so pack a lunch and read it then.]

The Graduation Speech

By Robbie Mackenzie (Preached at the Main Street church of Christ May 15, 2011)

            I have done many things since I have been alive.  I have been to South America and Africa.  I have attended numerous World Series games.  I hiked down the Grand Canyon and back up in one day.  I have watched four beautiful kids come into this world.  But there are many things in this world I have not experienced.  I have never jumped out of an airplane.  I have never, unfortunately, found gold on the other side of a rainbow.  I have never been to the North Pole and I have never, ever participated in synchronized swimming.  Something else I have never done is speak at a graduation.  I have probably sat through some thirty graduations and even leaving one in the middle only to arrive at another in the middle.  I have heard every quote imaginable like, “This is the first day of the rest of your life,” and “If it’s to be it’s up to me.”  I have heard many people misquote enough Scripture for me to pull my hair out and by the looks of my hair I have heard a lot of misquoted Scripture.  Nobody remembers a graduation speech because they are all the same.  This is why I am offering you a different graduation speech but in the end it will be forgettable and pretty soon it will be—well—just another graduation speech.

            If I were to graduate again (which may happen) I would want to hear this type of speech at my graduation.  I would want to have someone tell me what really might happen as opposed to God’s plans to “prosper us and not to harm us” (Jer. 29:11; taken out of context of course :)).  Those who have battled drugs, alcohol, divorce, financial heartache and difficult circumstances usually are not the ones invited to speak at graduations.  Why?  People want to hear the wealthy, famous, successful and “problem-free” at graduations yet those people are in the minority.  Most of us fit into the second category of simple, problem-full, but content with our lives.  That’s boring and nobody wants to hear about it.  So this is my attempt to put pen to paper and give flesh to words that I would say if it were the last words I would say to a graduate.  The speech is more about what you really may experience but it is a little uncertain.  So here we go.

            First of all, you’re going to grow apart from your friends.  There are certain people in your graduating class you will never ever see or talk to again.  Even your BFFs, whom you swore, pinkie-promised, and vowed to stay in touch via text, phone, SKYPE, or even just a visit on weekends, will grow apart from you.  It’s going to be awkward when you come home and go back to a high-school football game and see your old buddies.  You will realize they have changed and so have you and it will be a cool feeling knowing you are the college kid.  Pretty soon you will just feel old and then you will stop going back to high-school functions.  The saddest part about going different ways is watching some of your friends who cannot accept the fact that they are no longer in high-school.  They still talk like high-schoolers, hang out with high-schoolers, and their maturity level stays that way for years.  If they could just grow up and move on life would be better but they can’t.  That may be you by the way.  What they don’t tell you after you graduate is that life happens and things get in the way and we just become too busy.  You might even lose a friend tragically in a car accident, overdose, or a physical ailment like cancer or something else.  It’s going to hurt and you will cry.

            You’re going to realize that the boyfriend or girlfriend you thought you would spend the rest of your life with will not work out.  Nor will the next three or four.  You will realize that there are some seriously messed-up people out there who are looking for nothing more to score with you and that is going to hurt.  Perhaps you’re on the other spectrum and you will just wait, and wait, and wait while everyone around you is getting a significant other without trying yet you pray, ask someone out and still nobody will date you.  Then you’re going to go home and it’s going to sting every time someone asks you, “Are you seeing anybody yet?” and then the awkward look you get when you say, “No!”  To make matters worse they will offer you a monologue about them having two kids by the time they were your age.  That doesn’t help either.  Life does not consist in a relationship but it sure beats being lonely sometimes.

            You’re going to have to say goodbye to your parents.  Whether you work at home or go off to college you will have to say goodbye to them somehow.  You’re going to have to convince your parents that them moving in with you in your dorm room is actually a horrible idea.  They are going to call you, once, twice maybe three times a day just to hear your voice.  Some of you will want to run from your parents so bad and so fast that you are going to blaze a trail along the way but some of you are not going to want to leave your parents because you will be afraid.  You will get homesick because you’re going to miss the family meals, nights at the park, and games of uno, vacation and long conversations on the way to school.  The phone calls from mom will get really annoying but deep down inside her voice will be like water in the driest African desert.

            You’re going to be broke.  Growing up your mom and dad were like a free-flowing ATM but now that day is long gone and you actually might have to work which, by the way, you don’t have time for.  You may get into credit card trouble thinking you can pay the balance sometime later if you just meet the minimum payment and it’s going to come back to bite you in a very personal way.  Worst of all, you might actually get that date with that someone only to be so broke you have to spend your romantic night at the dining hall or McDonald’s because you can’t afford anything else.  By the way, your mom is calling you and you probably should pick the phone up.

            You’re going to change physically.  It’s a strange thing that actually eating 8-10 Krystals used to be fun and proper nourishment but now all of that eating during freshman year has become a part of your backside that you, literally, carry with you wherever you go.  The concept of “freshman 15” no longer is a myth as you’re just trying to avoid freshman forty as you huff and puff up the stairs to your room.  On top of that, guys you might start to notice that you lose hair at this time and girls you might start getting wrinkles.  Your chaotic schedule and stressful demands does not make your physical issues any better.  You may also get the world’s worst case of Athlete’s Foot because apparently your roommate does not have the human dignity to wear shower shoes or at least cut his feet off.  The sad part of this is that you’re going to realize quickly that the physical issues, from this point on, only get worse.

            You’re going to struggle attending worship services because mom and dad are not there to wake you up.  Wait—is that mom calling me again?  You are going to wonder what’s the point of attending services.  You’re going to look at the people in the church and say it is filled with hypocrites and, you may be right.  You’re going to struggle immensely at fitting-in and you are going to wish you could come back and participate in youth group again but your jerk of a youth minister will not let you.  You’re going to wrestle with what the church is versus what it was in Scripture (welcome to the club).  You’re going to wonder why churches invest so much time, resources and money with programs like the youth, older members, missions, building funds and yet not much time, resources and money (if any) are invested in college students.  For you, church is going to be difficult.

            You’re going to do some things you’re going to regret.  Some of them may be minor but some of them are going to be major.  You’re going to wish you could take it all back but you won’t be able to.  You’re going to remember what your parents said about the dangers and now you’re going to have to tell them what you just did.  It’s going to break their heart.  The saddest part of it all is that you’re too stubborn to learn your lesson and so you’re going to do it all over again.  You’re going to sit there late at night looking up at the ceiling wondering what you are going to do with your life.  You may want to end it all.

            You’re going to struggle with God.  Who is this divine being that was taught so heavily to you?  God has not been helpful to you and by the looks at what’s happening in the world God really doesn’t seem to care anymore.  You’re going to have people cast doubt on your faith with different beliefs, ideologies and philosophical inquiries which some seem possible to believe.  You’re going to try to help your faith by doing what your parents, youth minister or preacher suggested.  It’s going to be tough and in my experience, when the going gets tough sometimes…well…the tough gets tougher.  There are going to be moments when all you can think about God is anger, frustration and confusion.  Like David, you are going to say, “How long, O Lord?  How long?” (Psalm 13).




            You’re going to make new friends.  The kind of friends who do not have strings attached to them.  The kind of friends whom you will laugh with, cry with and the kind of friends who will be, like the Proverb writer said, “closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24).  The friends you make will be in your weddings,Teen girls on college campus at the hospital when you have a baby and next to you when you lose someone you love.  The kind of friend who will utterly depend on you and years down the road these friends will need you most when their own world is turned upside down.  You’re going to go to baseball games with these friends, have cookouts, go on mission trips with them and you might even have the opportunity lead a few of those friends to Christ.

            You’re going to meet someone…it may take years…and you know what…it may not happen.  You’re going to look at that sweet lady who keeps asking you if you’re married yet because she had two children by your age and you’re going to smile and say, “that’s not what God wants me to do right now.”  God will make it happen if it needs to happen and you’re going to be just fine with that.  You just might have four kids before you are thirty though and people, by the way, will make fun of you and call you crazy and psycho but you will realize that you will be 47 by the time your last one graduates high-school which will be the age your buddy will be when his first one starts middle school.  But it’s also ok if you wait that long.  You follow what God wants you to do not someone else.  It’s ok to be crazy so don’t change that for a second.  In the words of the musician Tom Cochrane, “Life is a highway and I want to ride it all night long.”  You’re going to be able to look at the person you will spend the rest of your life with and vow to be with them in sickness, and in health until death due you part.  You’re going to get that same passion every time you go to someone else’s wedding and you’re going to wake up each day feeling unworthy to wake up beside the most beautiful person in the world…not your youngest child who crawled in the bed…but your spouse.  You’re going to really feel blessed to be next to that beautiful person especially when you make it to the mirror in the mornings.

              You’re going to regret trying to run away from your mom and dad so quickly.  You’re going to want to pick up the phone and call them as much as possible.  You’re going to remember their lectures, words of “wisdom”, and caution and know that they were actually right.   If God blesses you with a child you’re going to name the child after your parents because of the influence that had on your life.  However, if home was a nightmare filled with abuse then you’re going to prove mom and dad wrong.  You’re going to make a difference and with God’s help you will show them what you can do even when they told you it couldn’t be done.

            You will eventually make money but still, somehow, be broke for a while.  It will be tough at first (remember the credit cards and loans?) but God will provide and mom and dad will help you out.  I promise.  If you don’t go to college then no worries because no matter what anyone says it’s ok for you not to go to college because, get this, college is not for everyone.  You will show them that you can still provide and work hard and do what God wants you to do.  The church will step in and provide for you in times when you could not provide for yourself.  You will have to fight the evils of consumerism and you will eventually give much of your income to the church.  People will think of you as crazy, stupid and a little off kilter but you will consider that suffering for the kingdom’s sake and little bit like emptying yourself which is what Jesus did for you.  You will have ups and downs financially and there will be days you will have to eat beans and rice and rice and beans but you will make it because all you need is a roof over your head and food on the table.

            You will learn to live with your body.  It’s ok that your body is not in pristine shape or that it’s shape looks like a hamburger rather than an hour glass.  It’s ok.  God just wants you to be healthy.  You will eventually enjoy eating things like salads, grapefruits, tree bark and you will especially enjoy drinking lots and lots of water.  Balding only gets worse and so do the wrinkles and your physical deterioration will be a daily reminder thanks to your kids and sometimes teenagers who decide to take a stab.  Laugh at this and consider it a way God humbles you.  Look at your body as a gift from God and each day is another opportunity that someone else did not get.

            You will eventually grow to love and adore the church.  Yes there are hypocrites in church but your experience in life will show you that there are hypocrites everywhere inside and outside the church.  The church never claimed to be perfect anyways besides there are so many people in the church who have changed their lives drastically because of the work of the church through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.  The church will need you to teach a class, lead a song, direct a program, visit the sick or teach a bible class.  You will have a renewed commitment to the church and it will drive you and you will soon find out that it is not you that is driving you but it is the Spirit of God inside of you.  You’re going to find out that the church is filled with plenty of people as messed-up as you!  That will put a smile on your face and the face of thousands of angels watching.

            You’re going to think about the regrets from time-to-time and they will enter your thoughts at weird moments.  The regrets will be like a bruise that won’t go away or rainstorm that will not depart.  You may have to call people to apologize for what you did and you may have to tell them you have changed.  You may have to earn someone’s trust back because of what you did but it’s going to be worth it.  You’re going to show God and others that you are a radical disciple who has radically changed.  “I’m not that way anymore” will come out of your mouth as effortless as air discharged from your lungs and you will say it with a smile.  Like Paul, your past will not break you rather it will shape you.  Your story will become a testimony for so many people to hear.

            Then there is God.  He always was and always is and always will be.  You’re going to find him because you’re going to long for him.  Like a fire in the midst of a blizzard you will long for his warmth and light.  He will show up in your life not as a boxed-in, compartmentalized God but as the living, active God.  He is going to lead you to places in life you never thought were possible but pretty soon you will realize that God is in the making-the-impossible-possible business.  You are going to realize that truly Jesus came so, like John told you, “we may have life, and life to the fullest” (John 10:10).  You will long for something John and Isaiah described as the New Heavens and New Earth.  You will feel God’s presence in your life with the utmost assurance that nothing can separate you from the love of God which is in Christ (Rom. 8:31-39).  You will feel God in your bones and in your core and it will be most satisfying.  There will still be valleys where the questions of theodicy (making God just) come back but you will know, deep down in your core, that eventually God will reign over all and all will be made right.

            This is my graduation speech and it is filled with paradoxes, difficulties, some contradictions and uncertainties.  But such is life right?  Life is never a linear process but often we find it as a cyclical pattern that repeats itself but rests on the grace of God.  So may you find the friends you need.  May you discover the spouse who is yours or may you rest in the state you are in.  May you love every minute your family is alive.  May you live fiscally sound so you can give until it hurts.  May you rejoice in the body God gave you but may you treat it well.  May you love the church and realize it truly is, like the preacher said, a hospital for the sick.  May you use your regrets to empower and inform your future.  And may you run to God, wrap your arms around him and never, ever let go.

            So, Dr. Seuss was right…a little…“be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray or Mordecai Ale Van Allen O’Shea, you’re off to Great Places! Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.  So…get on your way!”


Tangled Theology

December 14, 2010 — 2 Comments

Any movie I watch I try to find redemptive qualities that allow me to tell a story using the movie as a framework for that story.  The movie Tangled was, in my opinion, one of the better animated movies of the year.  The graphics are above par but what captivated me was the story that involved the typical plots of a medieval style love story.  You have your “damsel-in-distress” with Rapunzel and the rescuer who both are searching for the true story (they call it a dream) that is hidden deep within their core.  Call it fate or providence but they meet each other in the exact moment of need and the rest of the movie is devoted to finding Rapunzel’s true story as it was hidden from her since birth.  I do not want to ruin the movie so I will simply offer a few themes I thought were worthy of note that Christians might appreciate in the movie.

  • Quest for truth. The main characters are all on a quest of truth with Rapunzel and Flynn Rider searching for meaning and Mother Gothel trying to subvert that meaning.
  • Evil forces hinder our quest. Mother Gothel could be seen as a quasi-evil figure who uses Rapunzel’s powers for herself yet is the obstacle Rapunzel must go through to seek what is rightfully hers.  Christians, does this sound familiar?  We cannot avoid evil but must combat evil one-on-one to gain the prize.
  • Parenting 101. Mother Gothel, sadly, is an example of how some real-life parents live vicariously through their children and often use them for their own purposes.  Every time Rapunzel tried to leave Gothel would guilt her into staying by letting Rapunzel know how much that hurts Gothel to want to leave.  On the opposite side, Rapunzel’s real parents never give up in the search for their daughter even when each year it becomes harder and harder.
  • A beautiful princess changes everything. Guys pay attention to this one.  Flynn’s quest of selfishness is quickly subverted when he meets the women of his dreams.  Regardless of your gender when that special someone comes into your life everything narcissistic soon becomes vain and mundane…or at least it should.  There is a reason why Hollywood can sell a handsome man rescuing a damsel-in-distress…it’s every guy’s dream.
  • The purpose of our life takes time to figure out but when it comes it comes quickly. Not sure how to explain this other than you have to experience it to appreciate it.
  • We are all tangled somehow. The hair is the center piece of the entire movie.  It gives power (Samson-like?), it gives meaning, it is Rapunzel’s identity but it also holds Rapunzel back.  The movie ends with a unique twist but suffice it to say that what tangles her life and was her identity also helped her form something new and create a new identity.  We are tangled though in a web of confusion and false stories.  We hold on to thinks that make us feel comfortable and (we think) shapes our identity but paradoxically it is those things that also keep us from discovering what our TRUE identity really is.

I could go on but what other themes of Christianity did you see in the movie?

Herbert Spencer actually coined the phrase “survival of the fittest” but it was in response to reading Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species in 1864.  The idea is that only those species who are strong enough will survive.  The latest installation of this is painfully evident in college football with the knowledge that Cecil Newton lied about asking Mississippi State to pay for his son Cam to attend school there (read story here).  Whether Cam really knew or not is uncertain but the smoke is revealing the

fire and the fire is coming from a supposed minister of the gospel.  All for what?  College football.  It makes me sick the willingness people go through in order to be at the top.  Consider the following examples:

  • Bobby Petrino – Lied to Lousiville about interviewing with LSU (source) and quit in the middle of the season with the Atlanta Falcons to accept a job with Arkansas (informed his players with a note).
  • Butch Davis lied to the Miami Hurricanes saying he would not leave them for the Cleveland Browns…then he did (source).
  • Reggie Bush lost his Heisman because his family accepted money (cheating is the correct term).  Source
  • Perhaps one of the most obvious to me is the fact that Nick Saban continuously lied to reporters (source) in late 2006 and early 2007 saying he was not interviewing for the job at Alabama only to accept the job at Alabama.  What makes me upset is that later he tried to defend himself (see story), years later I might add, but never apologized for lying but said he did it to protect his players.  Nobody believes that for a second especially when he said: “I do apologize for any professional mishandling that might have occurred” (emphasis mine).  Might?  I agree he was protecting his team but is it OK that you lie to protect your team?

Is it ok to lie to cover up something damaging to your son (a la Cecil Newton?).  Is it ok to lie to keep your job and get paid (ala Bobby Petrino and Butch Davis)?  Is it ok to cheat to make sure you go to a school and win a Heisman (ala Reggie Bush)?

Where do we draw the line in character?  I am a UT fan and the same could be said about our program with the recent blunders of Coach Bruce Pearl who lied as well.  Character counts and in a dog-eat-dog world the ends tend to justify the means.  Jesus was the same way…except the end is heaven and the means to get there is counter-intuitive to the way the world.  It is amazing, no matter your allegiance, to see what people will excuse in order to put on a good show.  If your team is winning championships you probably don’t care how the coach got there just as long as you are winning.  I am thankful the kingdom of God does not work like college football.  Thank you God.

DISCLAIMER: This is not a tirade against any one coach or player…I only mentioned those that are infamous among sports writers.  If you think I have a vendetta against one program or player please think again.  Note my comment about Pearl.

Proverbs 26:5 reads, “Answer a fool according to his folly or he will be wise in his own eyes.” I often heard this quoted by preachers, teachers and students who are apologetically inclined to defend the truth against the skeptics and naysayers of our society.  There is some merit to answering a fool to his folly as some people make arguments based on little to no research whatsoever.  It can be a daunting task defending the truth especially with the internet being at everyone’s fingertips.  People, under the auspices of anonymity, feel like they can say anything and everything they want to hiding behind their cute and clever “screen names” while dishing out their rhetorical banter like Krispe Kreme doughnuts.  People can spend hours and hours online at forums defending/attacking (depending on your posture) arguments for/against God, the Church, Jesus and Scripture.  There is no longer a need for debates as we remember reading about them (Warren/Flew debate is still an amazing read) rather the debates are right in front of our very eyes with the click of a mouse and a stroke of a key.  Sometimes it is appropriate to answer people and respond to their poor assessment of Christianity.  Jesus responded on more than one occasion to the Pharisees’ inaccurate assessment of who He was.  At one point in the narrative Jesus gives such a compelling argument that Matthew records this statement: “No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions” (22:46).  So there is a need in some instances to respond to the critics, to the skeptics and to those wishing to spread false statements about Jesus.  Perhaps maybe we need to respond more to our brethren than those on the outside (?)!

But… or rather resoundingly BUT….

Proverbs 26:4 reads, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself.” It’s funny that this verse


comes before the previous one because I have rarely heard this quoted (wonder why?) but it makes perfect sense.  You can only say so much and spend so much time with someone and at the end of the day it’s better to smile and walk away than to say keep fighting.  Jesus is not going to cast you to outer darkness because you did not win an argument (whatever we mean by “win” anyways).  Some people are just looking for an argument (even some people in the church) and they can’t seem to operate unless they are dissecting every statement you make and claim you purport.  In the context of Jesus speaking to disciples about pseudo-Christs and to not listen to them Jesus offers this proverbial statement: “Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather” (Matt. 24:28).  In context Jesus means that the disciples are to avoid people who believe that they are Christ and to avoid those who gather with them but I would suggest that we avoid all types of argumentation that lead us to the vultures.  Simple farm wisdom suggests that if one lingers around the hog pen too long eventually he or she will end up smelling like a hog.  It is best to, like Jesus suggested, shake the dust off our feet and move on (Matt. 10:14).  You did your best to talk/reason with them and God has not chosen you to reach out to them and perhaps someone else will be able to do it.  For some of us this is difficult because we are the ones who love arguing yet we call it “discussion” or “dialog.”  I think you love being right and want people to know it.  You can’t win everybody so move on!

So there are times when we answer people and times when we do not answer people but the point I want to make is that we need to make the best use of our time.

Last night as I was driving home I heard something on the radio that disturbed me.  Maybe you have heard the news concerning Rick Pitino, head coach for the University of Louisville Men’s Basketball program.  Apparently 6 years ago he had sex with a woman at a restaurant where she got pregnant.  He paid her $3,000 for an abortion and she accepted the money but now alleges that Pitino raped her and he never paid her the money (See Full Story here).  I am not sure about the intricacies of the details but one thing is certain and that he did have sex with this woman after having some drinks with her at a restaurant. 

Last night I heard Coach Pitino say these words which struck me as odd: “I have made a very difficult decision to tell the truth.”  That was the only clip I heard and so I was livid about that because, in my opinion, WHY IS TELLING THE TRUTH SO STINKING DIFFICULT?  Is it because you actually have to admit that you did something wrong?  Is it because you are worried about the ramifications of bringing things out to the public?  Was his plan all along to lie about it and deny the allegations until all the evidence was stacked up against him?  It seems, from his statement, that telling the truth (6 years later mind you) was a last resort. 

Having said that, it seems I understand his comments a little better given the context of the statement.  This is the statement in context: 

“When you have a problem, if you tell the truth, the problem becomes a part of your past.  If you lie, it becomes a part of your future.  And I have made a very difficult decision to tell the truth to the federal authorities, the local authorities, university officials, and most importantly, people who love me the most: my family and friends” (Source). 

It makes sense in context but still raises questions.  I appreciate Josh Hamilton who, when confronted about a lapse from sobriety in January, told reporters that he already contacted his wife, the Texas Rangers and the people closest to him (Source).  I respect that.  I wonder if Pitino did the same thing or, only now, told the truth because he got caught.  The thing about all of this is what I notice is that no matter how sleek you are, eventually you will get caught.  Another lesson learned is that people are people and we all make mistakes.  We shouldn’t nail Pitino to a wall repeatedly because of his “indiscretion” (all be it the word indiscretion is a PC term that sounds better than adultery leading to an abortion).  I think he is taking the right steps to reconciliation and solving the issue. 

Two huge lessons from this:

  1. Seek ye first the truth.  The old Proverb remains fundamental: “Buy the truth and do not sell it” (Prov. 23:23).  Truth should not be the end but should be the means. 
  2. Own up to what you did.  It is hard but, and I agree with Pitino, “If you lie, it becomes a part of your future.”  Own up to it.  Don’t try to sugar-coat it calling it an indiscretion, call it like it is.  I am by no means removed from this state as I repeatedly have to unveil things from the darkest part of my soul.  Do it.  “Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them”(Eph. 5:11).