Seeking Unity

I realized a long time ago that, along with all of the writing I do here, I also do about 1500 words of writing every week for my sermon.  Most weeks they aren’t really something that translates that well into reading on a blog – or maybe I’m just over-critical – but this week I really liked when I wrote.  I also have had the idea of unity and disunity and wanted, at least subconsciously, to touch on the subject here.  It worked out perfectly, I suppose.

Here is my manuscript, edited a bit after I gave it yesterday:


The Unifying Act of Pentecost

Many gifts, one Body.  Many gifts, one Body.  Many gifts, one Body.  Many gifts, one Body.

Every year, when I approach my Pentecost sermon, I find myself focusing on the gifts of the individual.  Each one of us is part of the Body of Christ.  We have have a talent, a gift, a skill that we contribute to that Body.  We are each important.  Every year I tend to find myself focusing on the individuals.

That is a valid focus.  There will always be times that we find ourselves wondering if we are a necessary part of the Body of Christ.  Do we contribute?  Does Jesus actually desire us to be in his Body?  Can we even contribute to this Body?  What can we contribute?

Every year come to the same conclusion.  We each have gifts to share, we each have something that we contribute.  We each are part of the Body of Christ.  As faithful believers, we each have a roll that we play.  We fall short, we deny that role from time to time, but we each have a role in furthering Christ’s message, showing Christ’s love, and growing the Body of Christ.  We each are a part of the Body of Christ.

Every year I preach the same sermon.  Every year I talk about talents and gifts and how even the most miniscule act that do that is done in love and out of our faith in and love of Jesus Christ has radical effects.  A balloon has just a bit of air and yet it grows from something ugly, dull, and boring into something large, fun, and beautiful.  It does not take radical action to change the world.

Every year the same sermon.  I fear, though, that we miss something with that same sermon.  We need to reverse the lens that we are looking through.  We need to look not at each of us individually, but at the entire Body of Christ.  We need to do this because I’m afraid we miss an incredibly important part of the Pentecost day and what it did for our faith.

When we look at the Pentecost story, we see that Jews from every corner of the Earth, from every country, and in every language hearing the good news of Jesus Christ.  In this one act they were unified by hearing one Word.  They were one people connected to one message at one moment in time.  The Pentecost was as much a unifying act as it was an act of talent and gifts.  In that moment, the world of believers became one united Body of Christ.

Those who heard and understood were brought into the Body of Christ, becominf followers of the true Word of God expressed through Jesus.  They saw and heard the works of the Holy Spirit and were moved to follow Christ.  They were made better, their souls more whole, when they entered into the Body of christ.

It is better and joyful to be part of the Body of Christ.

Importantly, each of those who were brought into the Body of Christ were sinners.  Each had their flaws, each fell horribly short of the glory of God.  They were unworthy of being in this Body, and yet through Christ they were brought into one Body, showing mercy and love, and given their salvation.  Only faith, love, and submission to Christ was required.

No one was turned away, each was brought into the Body of Christ.

I see this outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the unifying actions of those who followed Jesus, the creation of a Body that requires only faith in Christ to be part of, and I cannot help but contrast it with the world we live in.  This world is not a world that is modeled after the actions of the Pentecost; it is the exact opposite of it.

When you look at politics, what do you see?  Do you see a unified Body working towards the good of the people, or a disunified Body whose concern is individual and selfish?  What do political ads say?  Do they speak to what good can be done, or what evil someone else has done?  What do we hear from our leaders?  Is it that they want to sacrifice for those who have elected them, or that they can help us if we just follow them and not that other person who has a different letter after their name?

But this goes beyond these divisions we’ve made for ourselves; we don’t just divide, we actively work to exclude people.  The world is set up in a way that we can only act like adversaries.  We are divided as “Us vs. Them” and the only ones who deserve to be part of the Body of Christ are the ones who fit in our “Us”.  The Body of Christ is universal and yet we like to see it as only those who minister like we do, talk like we do, and sin like we do.  Those other sinners have more black marks and different black marks on their souls so they cannot possibly be part of the Body of Christ.  They aren’t good enough.

We live in a world and we live lives that are anti-Pentecost.  We live in intentional disunity, we divide ourselves into groups that look and act and sound and sin the same, and we are glad to do it.

Glad to do it, joyful when we do it, and celebrative when it is done.

Disunity saddens me to a deep degree.  We are all called to be part of one Body and yet we are so divided.  If we disagree, we are more likely to battle, flee, or separate versus trying to solve the disagreement.  If something fails, we are ready to oust the person responsible and remove them from the Body.  If someone sins in a way that scares us, disgusts us, or just makes us feel uncomfortable, we are ready to cut their part of the Body of Christ away and make a more “pure” Body of Christ.  We are so ready to do this, so very ready.

Even denominations have the same issue.  I am not a huge fan of denominationalism as a whole, but I am even more angry at the denominations, my own Presbyterian Church included, that create more disunity in the Body of Christ over issues that are not that large, mostly issues that make people uncomfortable.  They split instead of trying to find a way to live within the same Body.  Martin Luther in no way wanted to divide the church and split it apart; he wanted change, he wanted discussion, but he realized that one of the calls of the gospel is unity within the Body.  His 95 Thesis was not supposed to be a wedge, even if the church treated it as one.

The Body of Christ is so divided, both as Christian bodies dividing themselves into fractured individual bodies and Christian churches denying entrance into the Body of Christ to those who are “different”, and those who contribute to this fracturing are denying everything about the Pentecost.  We were unified in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and we have done our best to deny that in our lives.

What is the solution, then?  What are we called to do?  We are divided, we are broken, we are fractured, and we live in a world of disunity; what are we supposed to do about it?

We can only work towards unity and wholeness of the Body of Christ in our own lives.  We need to recognize that all are called to the Body of Christ, including those whose ministries are different than our own, whose appearance is different than our own, and even those who sins are different than our own.  We have to act in a way that is accepting, loving, and unifies of the entire Body.  This is not to say that we need to turn a blind eye to sin but that sin does not exclude from the Body of Christ because of Jesus; we are redeemed, saved, and called to this Body despite of our shortcomings and our failures and our sins.  Christ makes us more than ourselves, and he makes everyone else more than themselves to be part of this one, unified Body.

Above all, the most unifying thing that we can do is love.  I talk about it every week, and I will every week.  One of the greatest things that Jesus gave us was an example of how to love.  Every action that we take must be made out of love, love of God and love of neighbor.  If we desire unity within our world, if we desire unity within the Body of Christ, we must love at every intersection and every waypoint.  We must love in everything we do.  We cannot have unity if we don’t.  Period.

We can only be unified if we love.  So love.  At all times and in all things.  Amen.


As always, comments encouraged (including homiletics comments if you are so inclined)!

To preaching the Word and being part of the Body of Christ,

– Robby

Lost Art of Freedom

I’m a tech person.  I love tech.  I’ve argued for tech.  I’ve seen the social media revolution as a great thing for humanity.  I’ve watched the internet destroy barriers and connect people in a way that science fiction writers could not dream up.  I won’t go so far as to say the entirety of human knowledge is available as my fingertips as I write this, but I would say we are getting pretty darn close to that.  A good friend of Nora and I’s was diagnosed with MDS and AML and I was able to go from knowing nothing about either to having a pretty decent basic crash-course in both within a few hours, including bleeding-edge information and treatment options.  Even this blog, which would have been a journal of an unknown man in times passed, is now available for the world to see.

All of this sounds great, but it gets even better when you start to dissect is a bit more.  Information is power, and information is freedom.  The more you know and the more you have access to learn (or access as necessary), the more freedom you have.  If you are not reliant on the powers to know, learn, and grow, if you are not reliant on archaic structures for learning and education, if you can learn anything you want because everything is available, you are more free than someone who cannot.

The internet has also broken down social barriers.  Twitter, for all of its faults and negatives, has completely opened up the social sphere and leveled the playing field.  It has opened paths of communication and allowed people of different social classes to communicate in an honest and open way – and mean and funny, as well, but the communication is happening that would have never happened before.  YouTube has allowed people, not giant corporations, to determine what entertainment they want.  Netflix has given artistic freedom to movie and television creators that the industry has never seen before.  This talk by Kevin Spacey is worth the 46 minutes.

The internet has changed things, some for the worse but vastly for the better.  Something it has done is given freedom, and in a way that nothing before it could have possibly done and nothing since its inception has come close to doing.  The internet is freedom, period.

A major aspect of that freedom is the fact that every bit of data is equal.  The only thing that differentiates how data is handled on the internet is size.  No data, no video or service, gets a priority over anything else.  There are sluggish servers, bad connections, but that is a problem with infrastructure, not a deliberate structuring of how quickly data is delivered based upon who can pay and who is willing to pay for their data to be given quickly.  No one is given preference and the internet is a neutral ground that has never been seen before.

And if what the internet delivery companies want to do with our data happens, we are going to lose that neutral ground.  If we let the telecommunications companies like Comcast, Time-Warner Cable, Cox, Verizon, AT&T, and Mediacom to determine who gets to go quickly and who gets throttled based upon who pays them in addition to what they are getting paid from subscribers, we are letting them destroy this neutral ground that has allowed small people to grow and succeed, allowed people who didn’t have the resources to learn before to learn anything they want from anywhere, and allowed the world to be connected to each corner.

If net-neutrality fails, then we are losing our freedoms.  Period.

I entitled this post “Lost Art of Freedom” to fit in here and I fear that I’m stretching it but I think there is something to practicing freedom.  Living in freedom is an art form.  I have no idea how to define that, but I do know what it isn’t.  I know that just using the internet for things that do not grow you, allowing your life to be defined by the frivolities of the internet instead of the beautiful thing that is presents, and not using it to broaden communication and freedom that is affords you, you are not practicing the art of freedom.

Or maybe you are.  Part of freedom is really the right to slit your own throat if you so desire.  Now, I am not advocating real suicide, but if you want to use the internet for cat pictures and Facebook chat, who am I tell you you can’t?  That is the beauty of freedom.

I don’t think, though, that if we idly sit by and not use the freedom and neutrality that the internet affords, we have lost our art of freedom.  If we don’t stand up and fight for our freedom, if we don’t use the freedoms we are afforded, if we are just idle, we have lost the art of freedom.

So what do we do now?  How do we fight that money and that power?

John Oliver has a brilliant idea (NSFW/Cursing Warning: I don’t blush at it, but I can understand why you may not want to watching something of that nature).  Contact the FCC and tell them that this is a freedom issue, not a commerce issue or something that should be determined by the powerful and rich men to make more money at the expense of freedom and neutrality amongst all people.  That is something you can do.  Here is the link:

http://www.fcc.gov/comments – Proceeding 14-28

Do this.  John Oliver kind of pushes for this to be “trolling” in terms of how we approach it but I think if we are professional, say that it is hurting our freedoms, and point to why, they have to deliberately deny this by changing the rules.  Period.  In changing this rule, they are choosing the profits of giant corporations over the freedoms of the entire nation.  We must express that this is unacceptable.

After you are done doing that, do something on the internet that makes it beautiful and wonderful.  Chat with someone on a different continent.  Learning something about theoretical physics.  Communicate with someone famous and important on Twitter.  Do something that the internet made possible that was impossible before.  Use the freedom we have been afforded in this act.

Learn to practice the art of freedom.  Act in a way that requires freedom.  Do something that shows you are free.

To freedom,

– Robby

Coffee

Every morning that Nora doesn’t have to open, we sit and drink coffee.  It isn’t a ritual thing, or even really an activity that we do together – right now she’s enjoying her coffee and I’m writing while we occasionally say something to each other.  Nora drinks coffee every morning.  Sunday morning rolls around and, because the sermon is never complete early, I need that cup of coffee to not be yawning throughout the service.  A nice cup of fauxspresso and Irish creme is…well, it’s just heaven.

We love coffee.  I honestly can say that I think I am better for having acquired the taste for coffee.  There are three things to have conversations over – food, beer (or whiskey), and coffee – and not having one of those three in my back pocket would have made the conversations I’ve had over the last 4 years less.  Period.

Have you ever offered a coffee drinker a cup of coffee when they had none?  It is amazing how much that cup of coffee can warm that person, both physically and emotionally.  I don’t remember where I picked this up, but I firmly believe that you can any knowledge of a person you want if you just offer them the comforting drink of their choice that isn’t alcohol-based; for coffee drinkers, and especially caffeine addicts, a cup of coffee will more usefully loosen a tongue than a bottle of bourbon or vodka.

My grandfather went downtown every day until the day he died and had coffee with all of the other old farmers from Battle Creek.  It was at the gas station, but either the coffee price went up or they took out most of the booths so they changed to one of the bars.  Then for some reason that didn’t work out so they moved to a small collectible shop across the street that basically served coffee and sweets so they would have a place to drink coffee and eat sweets in the morning.  And they did until many of them had passed.

My grandpa was at a funeral the day before he died and someone snapped a picture of him drinking a cup of coffee; even now, ten years after we lost him, my grandma still has that picture taped to the wall and she still has coffee with him.

Coffee is a part of life for a lot of people.  I’m not talking about a mochafrapaccinolatte (yup, made that up) concoctions that mask all of the coffee taste; I’m talking about a pot of drip coffee, milk and sugar for those who want, sitting around talking.  Growing up, after church on Sunday, the kids went upstairs for Sunday School and the adults went downstairs and drank coffee.  The coffee pot in the seminary lounge had the worst coffee imaginable and yet there was always a group of people talking and preparing their coffee right before and in-between every class.

There is something about the warmth, the bitterness, and the ritual around it that just brings people together.  It’s an intangible, something I can’t put my finger on, but it’s there.  Coffee brings people together.

(Note before I continue: I’m not a coffee-elitist.  Tea is wonderful, as well.  As is hot chocolate.  Mmmmmm, hot chocolate.  I just one, grew up in a coffee-culture, and two, find drip coffee in coffee mugs to be a unique part of our culture.  Other parts of the country, and other parts of the world, probably have their own thing that has the same effect coffee has on people in rural Iowa and much of the United States.)

As wonderful as coffee is, and it is wonderful, it has a serious dark side to it.  Big, multinational growers of coffee had harmed people in the name of cheap coffee.  People have been killed, have been starved, have been hurt just to make cheap, bulk coffee.  I’m not a social justice warrior of any sort and I really understand how money works for people who are without, but there was a point that I had to be honest with myself and align my consumption with my beliefs.  I can’t remember when it was, but I remember drinking a cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee, enjoying the taste quite a lot, and then thinking, “Someone has hurt to make the situation correct for this cup of coffee to be placed in my hands.”  And mind you, Dunkin Donuts coffee isn’t a cheap brand of grind, either; more ethical coffee costs a bit more, but it isn’t cheap like a store-brand grind.  It just struck me that I was participating in hurting people, and for a cup of coffee that was good but cheap(er).

I didn’t get perfect right away; it took me a bit to get to that point where I drink mostly ethical coffee.  You will still occasionally find cheap, store-band coffee in our fridge.  We aren’t perfect, and I will still get a cup of coffee at a restaurant without asking about it’s sourcing, but I am trying to help the situation.  I am trying align my love of coffee with my love of humanity and doing the small part that I can to help people who are being hurt for coffee.

So what do we do?  I’m not a huge proponent of Fair Trade because, though I agree with the philosophy and the goal completely, I’m not sure I agree with the practices nor the price of certification.  I will never look down at someone who has switched to Fair Trade because every ethical option helps but that isn’t the route I’ve been following.  Instead, I’m a huge fan of a couple of smaller outfits who aren’t certified but do a lot of good.

The first one is Justo Cafe/Just Coffee.  What I love about this is that everything – growing, roasting, and distribution – benefits the actual people in the area.  It’s also organic and shade grown, which is good for the Earth and not just her people.  And it’s good coffee; the preaching professor gave us a bag for class and it was quite fantastic.  In honesty, learning about this coffee really planted the seed to start drinking ethical coffee in me and guided me into wanting to change my plans.

The second is More Than Coffee.  There are a lot of groups that have this name; the one I am talking about is at http://www.morethancoffee.info.  The coffee itself is delicious, sourced from Ethiopia, and the farmers are treated as well or better than Fair Trade farmers are.  In terms of ethics, they are solid.  What is cool about this group, though, is that the profits are put back into helping the orphans and widows of Ethiopia.  What is even cooler is that I actually got to meet the woman who started it, know people who work with them personally, and I can attest to their love of God and love of helping people.  I have faith in the goodness of people who do these things, but knowing the people who do this makes it the obvious choice for us in our coffee drinking.

Their Ethiopian Delight is also the only coffee I have ever had that stopped me in my tracks with how delicious it was.  It is just amazing coffee.

Do I think these are the only good options for ethical coffee?  No, absolutely not.  I just know about them and have done research into them.  What I’m saying here is that you should know where your coffee comes from, know how the growers are treated, and find coffee that aligns with the second greatest commandment – Love your neighbor as yourself – and isn’t a selfish choice for you.  Just do a bit of research and find a brand that you feel is doing good instead of harm in the name of coffee.

Small choices, small actions by everyone change the world.  This is a small thing you can do.

In Christ,

– Robby

Fire and Ice (or, Robby Rambling about Preaching)

Last night we had a bonfire because…well, I cut up a lot of firewood Friday, I haven’t had a chance to have a fire since then, and we’re leaving Wednesday for a wedding and I wanted to actually benefit from my labors instead of just longingly looking at the wood and being sad a fire wasn’t burning.

Holy crap, I love bonfires.

Anyway, as the fire was burning I couldn’t keep something out of my mind.  A couple of summers ago I worked with a pastor who has a very intellectual mind.  Very organized, very regimented, clean desk and set schedule.  This isn’t to say he is horribly inflexible – successful pastors can’t be inflexible and unsuccessful pastors don’t stay at a church happily for 30+ years – but his mind is very much logical and rational.

Anyone who knows me in my personal life could tell you that it was only destined that we would get along very well.  We just kind of clicked when I started my rotation at that church.  I’m less regimented than him, and I’m certainly not a clean-desk sort of guy, but the logical and rationality he showed in his ministry makes sense to me.

Another thing that worked with just getting along is he is a musician and a fan of jazz. Our lunches would be a sandwich at his kitchen table and then 20 minutes or so listening to jazz records CDs before we went back to work.  I can tell you, there isn’t much in the world I enjoy more than something like that; just listening to even part of a beautiful record like Kind of Blue as a break from whatever work you are doing can reset your engines and clear your mind (especially if you are an introvert).

One of these lunch sessions we got to talking about his violin playing and he mentioned something that a conductor had given as inspiration to the orchestra he as performing with: “Hearts on fire, minds on ice.”

Something about that has resonated with me since that day.  An idea that, even in the midst of our deepest intellectual moments, the midst of the coldest logical thinking, our hearts can still be on fire.  The fire of passion and desire does not require the brain to be shut off or even reduced at all; in fact, an expression of a heart “on fire” can be a brain working at its fullest and coldest.

Last night it popped into my head because of the fire because the fire didn’t want to start.  The leaves were damp, the wood a bit wet, and the wind a bit strong to be conducive to starting a fire in a small fire pit.  I couldn’t just have a spark to easily light a fire; it required work, it required thinking, and it required maintenance.  It just wouldn’t become the raging fire that burns anything easily; even when it got hot and the wind was making it bigger than the fuel said it should have been, a small misstep could have reduced it to smoldering.

In a lot of real ways, a fire in optimal conditions is better than my fire last night.  In optimal conditions, with dry kindle, dry wood, and properly sized logs, you are only limited to the size of the fire pit and the time you want to spend with the fire.  It burns bright, it burns warmly, and it just works on every level.  It just comes out.

I’ve had sermons like this.  You sit down at the computer and suddenly 2000 words are on the page and it flows perfectly.  It’s theologically sound, artful, and just a good sermon.  I’ve had this happen to me, I’ve had it happen when I didn’t deserve it, and I’ve had it happen when I deserved to have nothing sit on the page because of the lack of preparation I’ve had.  Sometimes it just happens that way.  Some of it is obviously the Holy Spirit, the flame of our souls, and some of it is the training and experience we’ve had.

A world of change can happen to a sermon between printing Saturday night and preaching Sunday morning.  I’ll use a fire I built at camp to explain.

One night I had one of those nights that young, angst-filled college students have.  I decided that I needed to build a fire to get through it and it was a darn good fire. Literally, it is one of the best bonfires I’ve ever built.  It just burned well, stayed lit, and it was a beautiful fire.

No one enjoyed it.  I was alone, and I was angst-filled in particular that night; this beautiful fire seemed wasted because no one enjoyed it.

I’ve written beautiful sermons I was proud of, and I still love despite the need for a couple of tweaks.  I can think of one in particular that just felt right.  It was artful, different, followed a homiletical style, and I just enjoyed writing it.  I had a solid interpretation of the scripture in use, backed up my commentaries, and it was just what the spark of the Holy Spirit lit in me.  I was ready to be lauded for my beautiful effort.

It is, in my opinion, lack on small word change, the best sermon in terms of art form I have ever written.  And my church enjoyed it immensely.

That C I got on it in Preaching Class showed me exactly how much a good sermon can completely miss it’s mark.  The best manuscript, the best delivery, and the best preacher – abstract, not specific in my case – can be heard wrong, suffer from the distraction of those listening, and have a small phrase that is mostly irrelevant to the message of the sermon derail the entire thing.  The beauty of that “fire” that I wanted to share ended up putting a sour taste for preaching in my mouth.

If I’m honest, both that fire I built at camp and that sermon I gave in class nearly caused me to quit.

Pride sucks and can kill everything about you.  It just is that way.  Especially when you think you’ve done this amazing thing, no one may notice and it may feel worse after than before.

That isn’t to say that every good sermon – or every good bonfire – that went like that was wasted and caused me grief.  I’ve written good sermons, preached them, and they hit exactly where I was aiming.  I felt good, the sermon had its message heard, and it was obvious that the Spirit was guiding my lips and the congregations ears.  I don’t always fail when the sermon came out easy and came out good.

What I will also say is that the sermon doesn’t always hurt when it is a grinder.

Sometimes the fires in non-optimal conditions are so much more meaningful than fires in the best of conditions.  Last night I just felt good that I got that stupid fire to burn.  The flames never got big (expect when the wind blew and they were way bigger than I wanted them to be) and it was hard to keep a flame at all.  Yet it was good and mind-clearing to be outside, to feel the warmth of the flames, and to have time with my wife without distraction other than the constant need to keep up with the fire.

Sermons can be like that.  There are certain passages that you decide to preach on early in the week (or weeks before) and Saturday comes and the sermon just won’t come out. Even passages that lend themselves to easy sermons just don’t have a message for you every time.

But Sunday morning doesn’t wait for you.  At 10:30 I have to have a worship service planned, bulletins printed, and something to say when I get to the sermon.  I can’t just say, “Screw it!  No sermon this week!”

Okay, maybe I could, but I like not being asked to not return.

It is amazing to me, though, how often those sermons hit the mark they needed to. Even more amazing – and annoying, if I’m honest – is when that mark is nowhere near where I was aiming.  It’s not that I didn’t prepare, it’s not that I didn’t try to hit a good message, but the sermon lent itself to another message and another point without my intervention.  Often times I don’t even know how it did it, and can’t find it when I read my manuscript again, but it worked on a spiritual level.

The Holy Spirit works in mysterious ways.  With or without me.

I’ve also been burnt by those sermons.  Sometimes you talk for 15 minutes just to have the message, “Jesus loves you and the pastor loves the sound of his own voice” come through.  I know it’s happened; my congregation would never tell me, but I know it.  It happens.

So what about that quote, “Hearts of fire, minds on ice?”  It seems like I got derailed – and I did – but there is a point.  The first is obviously that the Holy Spirit can fix my brokenness from the pulpit.

But that isn’t the end.  Despite how many times the Holy Spirit has saved me from myself, it always works better when I’m in study and thought about my sermons.  There is a definite correlation between my working through a sermon before Friday or Saturday and the sermon coming out good and hitting its mark.  And there is a correlation between a grinder sermon actually working out and me having spent time with the scripture.

Compare it to my fire last night.  If I had just left it up to what was there without work, I would have burnt some wet leaves and then watched TV all night.  If I have no preparation and just grind out whatever will come, nothing will come of it.  “Jesus loves you and I love the sound of my own voice” is not a good or useful message.  If I had just relied of the little bit of flame I had starting on its own, it would have died.

If I rely on just the Holy Spirit to give me a message without the brain work, I am going to fail as a preacher.  Period.  I will fail as a preacher if I don’t let my mind be on ice and think through this stuff.  Passion, emotion, and fire are all good things in a preacher, but they don’t come together as a whole, cohesive piece on Sunday morning.  I offer 1 Corinthians 14 as proof of what I am speaking of; speaking in tongues is a bit different than just standing up and speaking on Sunday without preparation but the whole idea of one just using the heart while the other uses both the heart and the mind stands true.

So here is my interpretation of that ideal, “Heart of fire, mind on ice,” in a ministry standpoint.  There are people who believe we should just go out and do and let the Holy Spirit guide on the fly.  I disagree.  I believe the Holy Spirit guides my preparation, my study, and my thinking.  Preparation is holy and good, and can also lead to a refined message instead of a rough one.  Rough wood can be beautiful, but refinement can make it shine.

So I guess I’m saying let your hearts be on fire.  It requires passion and love to preach the gospel and share Christ’s love.  But when the time calls for it, set your minds on ice and allow them to do what they do: process, think, and analyze.  Both can, and should, work complimentary, not oppositionally.  Let them.

Not preaching this week so you kind of got an extra-Biblical homily. Hopefully I’ll get the second part of the sin series flushed out sometime today (but I wouldn’t bet on it).

To preaching with our minds and loving with our hearts, and also visa-versa,

– Robby

P.S.: I used four words that WordPress’s writing checker doesn’t recognize.  Either I’m brilliant or arrogant…

Do No Harm

Writer’s block, you are just a horrible, horrible thing.  Not only do you prevent me from actually be productive but you also force me to play 2048 in hopes that something in my creative brain will spring a leak and I’ll finally get the ambition to either get up and leave or just write something.  And how fickle she is with what will spark the fuel.

Facebook.  I spend so very little on Facebook when I’m not working on SSEM stuff or trying to fall asleep and I get bored easily on it.  But I do like to post interesting things, and when I see Vince Gilligan is making a show that has the same name as my home town (Battle Creek, which I assume is Michigan because a crime show about Battle Creek, Iowa is going to be about as exciting as Corner Gas), I had to post it.

After that, I looked a bit and I saw a Methodist pastor friend of mine had posted a short guide to a Wesleyan approach to social media and the first rule was “Do No Harm.”  I’ve also been bingeing on House, M.D. (thank you Netflix) and that whole ideal pretty much gets thrown out the window constantly in hopes of diagnosis and healing.  I’ve also had the Westboro Baptist Church in my mind, both their hatred and some of the positive response to their hatred (and negative response), and I’ve wanted to address that whole method of evangelism.

I think it sticks in my mind so much because my goal with every sermon is, first and foremost, to “Do No Harm.”  Whenever I’m writing a sermon and I come up on something that is going to poke the congregation in the eye with a sharp stick – which I do like to do – I always consider the ramifications beyond forcing thought and questioning.  I don’t even really mind offending people but just offending people for offense sake is going to do nothing for their soul.  There is no reason for me to kick the souls of those who are gathered there to worship on Sunday just because I want to be edgy and whack all of the preconceived notions they hold in their hearts with a flaming sledge-hammer as violently as possible.  There is not point or reason for that unless those preconceived notions are actually harming them in a way that is comparable to the harm I am doing to their psyche by doing this.  I am not that arrogant.

The one big thing that I am always stuck on is the harm that can be done around death and mourning.  I tell people their being jerks, their being judgmental, or that their views on sin are all sorts of wrong with only a slight amount of trepidation but even mentioning death and dying makes me want to fall into that path of no resistance.  If I can just get “Jesus loves you” across without saddening anyone too much, I think I’ve won.  In that moment of mourning, it is so incredibly easy to lose faith; trying to use that moment as a springboard for a prophetic word is basically forcing people away from God.

But the prophetic words are necessary.  We have 4 major prophets and 12 minor prophets that get their own book in the Bible.  We are sinful and we need those who have a prophetic word to share to actually share it with us and guide us back to a path of righteousness.  It is necessary and good, but it also should be intentional, timed well, and should focus on the glory and goodness of God and not at all on the goodness of the messenger.  “You’re evil and I’m good!” is not a prophetic message, as much as those who preach would like it to be.

No matter the message, and no matter the messenger, there are times that a prophetic message will do harm and no good.  I think about the prophetic messages in the Bible and I cannot think of message that was given in a time of mourning.  There are plenty that came preceding and telling of times of mourning, plenty that basically told the Jewish people that what was coming was brought upon them by themselves, but it was never delivered once they were mourning.  People don’t hear those messages in times of mourning.  Christ taught a lot of prophetic things and yet he simply mourned at Lazarus’s death (then brought him back to life, but that’s a bit off topic).

A prophetic word given specifically in terms of a death will do nothing but drive people away.  Even if the person was (insert horrible, disgusting sin that the community believes will send them to Hell), that moment is not the moment to remind people of Hell and condemnation.  The funeral of a 14-year-old son of a minister and grandson doctor is certainly not the time to give a universal prophetic of how the United States is going to Hell because of homosexuality and holding funerals.

Trying to not get pointed but can you see the flaw in their logic?  This boy probably loved everyone around him, his father has dedicated his life to teaching Christ’s message, his grandfather dedicated his life to healing, and they were shot in cold blood.  The Jewish people mourned and held services to honor the dead.  Christ’s body was to be prepared by Mary Magdalene.

Disagree with the theology around having a body at a funeral?  That’s fine.  Think we worship the dead a bit too much?  I agree with you.  Think the funeral of a 14-year-old boy who has friends who need to cope with the senseless loss of life and need to see a body for their psyche to accept that his death is real is the place to protest funerals?  No, it isn’t.

Do no harm.  No matter what your theology is, what your message is, there is no where in the Bible we are called to do harm.  If we take Christ as an example, especially on this Maundy Thursday submitting himself to the priests to become the sacrificial lamb for humanity, we should also be submitting ourselves, sacrificing ourselves for others and looking to life them up, not tear them down.

Do no harm.  I’m also struck, though, at the hatred that is shown towards people of this nature.  I’m not surprised by it – heck, I’ve even joyfully participated at times – but I am struck at how easily we hate them because of the sins they commit.

Have you thought about what kind of room in Hell Fred Phelps is sitting in right now? Because I have, and I am shamed by that.  I have had a serious shift in how my theological stances express themselves in a practical manner and if I am going to stand by the ideal that there isn’t a sin that is uniquely capable to condemning you to Hell, I have to stand by that.  Condemning anyone, judging anyone, and glorifying yourself are each sinful, but so is gluttony and sloth.  If my sins don’t condemn me to Hell because of my faith in Christ and recognition of my sin, then I cannot begin to claim that he is in Hell when I am saved.

I posted this sign before but I am going to post it again.  I’m going to be working with the “What Not To Do” when talking about sin but I think we need to worry about what to do, as well.  So in practice, the inverse of “Do No Harm” is “Do Good.”  So if I wanted to do good with this, this would be my option:

Do good.  I wonder why people don’t offer them food and drink, feed them and make sure they are healthy.  I get the counter-protests, I get the desire to drive them away, but we should be like the Good Samaritan.  Even if they are the most detestable group of people to us, we should be loving them like we love each other.

“Do No Harm”

To loving each other,

– Robby

The Women

It’s Tuesday, which means it’s time for me to muse about what my sermon on Sunday is going to look like.  Aren’t you lucky?

To sum up where I’ve been throughout this Lenten series, here is a list of the people I’ve focused on, in order:

The Bystanders, The 12 as a whole, Peter, John, Judas, and The Jewish Leadership.

This week I was going to just do Mary, Mother of Jesus, but I realized something: we have a grand total of 3 verse that have anything to do with just Mary, mother of Jesus.  I can speculate on what she is feeling, but only as an outside without any real experience to empathize with her.  I can pretend I know the pain of child loss, especially senseless child loss, but I can’t actually empathize.  “Mary was at the cross, she was sad, and John took her as his mother,” it a pretty short and crappy sermon.

Though a short sermon gets the families home for ham sooner.  So maybe…..?

So I thought about this for a bit and I decided we have a lot of women in the gospel story of Holy Week.  Off the top of my head, we have Mary brother of Lazarus, Martha, Mary mother of Jesus, Mary Madeline, and the other women who were watching the tomb.  Women play just a pivotal role in Christ’s death and resurrection and this entire event would be entirely different if they weren’t involved.

I’m going to try to go in chronological order with the women.  How that will look as a practical matter is still to be determined but as a broad concept, I want to tell the story of Holy Week from the eyes of these women.  What did they experience, what did they feel, why did they do the things they did?

The first, then, is obviously Mary brother of Lazarus.  I touched on this part of the story with my Judas sermon but Mary brings a whole different view.  I find it interesting that she seems to know what is going on before even Jesus’ betrayer does.  She seems to understand that his end has come.  This is really her way of mourning, her way of giving Christ an amazing gift at the end of his life, her way of accepting his death.

I am reminded of lesson I got in seminary about funeral honorariums.  A lot of people in the class, myself included, initially thought that doing a funeral for a member of the congregation was just part of the job.  We certainly wouldn’t ask for honorariums and would have a hard time taking them.  (Oh, how innocent and pure we were as Juniors.)  Then we were hit with a stark reality check: the honorarium is a way for the family to thank you for helping them mourn.  In essence, it is part of the mourning process.  To deny them that is to deny them healthy mourning.

So, applying it to here, we have become Judases if we refuse to allow them to present their gifts of mourning.  We may not do it out of greed, but we have decided we know better what they should do with their money, and we’ve put our own desires above theirs.

So Mary is mourning in a beautiful way.  And Martha isn’t, focusing on fixing the meal and working.  So much could be said about that, but I’ll simply put this in there: people mourn in different ways.  Not every way is healthy, not every way is proper, but each of us mourns differently.  What Martha missed, though, is allowing herself to enjoy the company she had and instead worried so much about the appearance and the work that she missed the opportunity to mourn with Jesus.  Still need to flush that out some more.

Then we have Mary mother of Christ at the cross.  I don’t even know if I have words; maybe silence will speak louder than I ever could.  A moment for mourning, both for Christ and for those who we have lost.  A time of mourn.

Then we have Mary Magdalene.  Who went to prepare the body.  Who found the tomb empty.  Whom Jesus appeared to first.

I am reminded of Lamb by Christopher Moore.  Now, I won’t talk about any romantic feelings between Mary and Jesus, going one or both directions, but I think I can safely say she has a devotion to him that the other disciples and followers did not.  I would argue that she is probably his closest companion.  There is something special between them, and I can’t help but think that Moore touches on it better than anyone.  Even if she is madly in love with him (entirely possible – Jesus is pretty awesome), she knows who he is and knows, at least in her soul, how this is going to end.  You don’t fall in love with Jesus and expect a long, happy life.  If nothing else, the Pharisees have given her ample reason to fear Jesus’ death.  I don’t see anything in scripture that lets me think she was shocked or surprised by his death.

Pained, jarred, and saddened?  Absolutely.  Shocked?  Probably not.

His resurrection, though, that was pretty amazing and shocking.  What I think we need to focus on, given her devotion, is that she didn’t recognize Jesus even when she was so devoted.  If his closest companion, the woman whom so much is written and speculated about the nature of their relationship, cannot recognize him, the change that happened was miraculous.  He was no longer the same man.  His resurrection was so healing and transformative that the new cannot be recognized as the old.

We are so changed by Christ.  Whenever someone interprets new life as a Spring thing, with baby chicks and bunnies, I want to scream.  The new life is not a birth; it is a rebirth.  It is taking something that was before Christ and transforming it into its perfect form.  Christ was transformed from is flawed body into a perfect version of his human self.  Radical transformation.

So yeah, that’s where we’re going.  From a point of mourning to a point of radical transformation given out of radical love.  It’s ought to be a decent sermon.

To preaching and sharing the Word.

– Robby

Jerks

I’ve looked them up twice in the last 72 hours and they’re stuck in my craw so anyone who reads this page is just going to have to deal with me complaining about them.

The Westboro Baptist Church makes me mad and it isn’t even because they picket funerals and sue people who even get a little bit aggressive with them for being jerks.  I get so frustrated with them because of this:

Source: WBC Twitter page. No Photoshop aside from cropping…

Even if their views on homosexuality, the US Military, and death are all true, they have no idea if I am a sinner or not. “You are probably an Esau.” That really just gets under my skin.

Part of why is because I personally think the bible calls us to humility.  Humble people tend to look at themselves and see their own flaws, understand they are below Christ, and act as people who are forgiven moment from moment, not people who have stopped sinning and are perfect.  But that’s just my personal bias.

I can say, without doubt, that humans cannot judge each other.  There is a list of scriptures that prove that; I’ll let James prove it specifically today:

Brothers and sisters, don’t say evil things about each other. Whoever insults or criticizes a brother or sister insults and criticizes the Law. If you find fault with the Law, you are not a doer of the Law but a judge over it.  There is only one lawgiver and judge, and he is able to save and to destroy. But you who judge your neighbor, who are you?

– James 4:11-12

Did anyone that is a physical entity today create the law?  No?  Then stop judging one another.  I don’t care if you believe a person is sinning, you are not in a position to condemn.  Period.  So stop it, or stop calling yourself a Christian.

Yesterday I said that the call of the Gospels was to love radically, no matter the sin or shortcomings of the people you love.  Calling them names, dehumanizing them, and saying that they are going to Hell is the exact opposite of loving them.  And using the excuse “I want them to stop sinning” to justify your hateful actions is a lie; again, name calling and dehumanization aren’t loving, period.

Now, I’m not arguing that holding each other accountable for our sins is a bad thing and calling a sin a sin is actually a good thing, but there is a fatal flaw when we only look at the sins that make us uncomfortable and forget other sins (especially not loving our neighbor as ourself).

So instead of saying everyone but a select few people are going to Hell, do this instead:

Source: New York Daily News and KSHB Action News

Love radically. Period.

– Robby

Judas and Forgiveness

Again, it’s time for sermon musing.  Did it two weeks ago, sermon flew off my hands and was good.  Didn’t do it last week, sermon didn’t want to come out and most certainly wasn’t nearly as good as it could be.

Granted, my last page printed blank.  I am not amazing on the fly when I’ve been preaching from a manuscript for 7 pages 😕

So sermon musing early in the week it is!  I haven’t chosen passages for this weeks yet but I know who I’m talking about: Judas.  Cue Lady Gaga!  Wait, no, no, no, no, no!  Now it’s stuck in my head!

(For your listening pleasure torture)

That…not offensive in my mind lyrically but musically offensive to my ears song notwithstanding, a friend of mine posited a question a few years ago that I think about every Easter season:

Had Judas waited until Sunday and talked with Jesus, would Jesus have forgave him?

Now, that is actually two questions.  The first is the theological question of the divine Jesus forgiving Judas for committing a sin.  I take a very simple stance on this.  Jesus came to forgive all sins.  All sins.  If Judas’ betrayal was unforgivable, then no repentant sins are forgivable.  There isn’t basis for condemning specific sins or his greed and betrayal being worse than any other greed or betrayal just because it happened against Jesus.  It doesn’t work that way, as much as our self-righteous natures would have us believe.

So, had Judas waited and repented, he would have been saved if he wasn’t already.

The second question is, could human Jesus forgive the betrayal of a friend?  I automatically want to say, “Yes, absolutely!”  I’m backed up a bit; read John 21:15-19.  Jesus has taken Peter aside to discussion his faith tell him what to do with his love.  Jesus didn’t take him aside and tell him, “You denied me, I cannot forgive you.”  There isn’t a passive-aggressive, or active-aggressive confrontation to tell Peter just how much he cannot forgive him.  It just isn’t there.

My mind wants to complicate the matter.  I want to see motivations and, in my humanity, that makes some things more forgivable.  Peter acted out of fear, Judas out of greed.  Peter was literally going to die if he didn’t deny Christ – or at least he believed he would.  Judas did it for a few dollars.  I can sympathize with Peter and say I would probably have acted the same way; likewise, I can honestly say Judas did something I cannot fathom and I would not be able to forgive him.  I don’t even know if I could forgive him if I was a disciple; his action was so selfish and placed the life of their teacher at 30 pieces of silver. Greed that leads to death I cannot forgive.

…which goes to prove that I am very much a fallen sinner.  Jesus was human as we are, only in perfect form.  I want to forgive Peter but Peter, too, did his act selfishly.  His stakes were much higher but he valued his life over Christ’s and he knew it where as Judas probably didn’t realize that the silver would lead to Jesus’ death; he threw the coins back, if you remember.  I can’t see Jesus differentiating between the two acts; Judas was a friend and disciple (if a bit of a thief) and I can’t believe that our Lord and Savior, having been to Hell and back and knowing Judas’ betrayal being necessary for the redeeming act, would have held the grudge.

So the answer, given my flawed mind and lacking theology, is that, had Judas waited, he would have been forgiven.

I have to ask the next question in this line, then.  Is Judas in Hell?  Was Judas condemned for his actions?

This goes to something deeper than just Judas.  Is suicide unforgivable?  Can we only be forgiven of those sins we actively confess?  Does God condemn those whose mental illness, that they have no control over, causes them to sin?  How about people who refuse treatment when they could be saved; is that suicide?  How about people who take cancer treatments that will most likely kill them?  Or refuse cancer treatments that may save them?  Or how about the guy who ate too much and felt good about it and then died of a heart attack; his is gluttony unforgivable?

This isn’t a slippery slope question; this is a question of consequences for answers.  There are three major questions that need to be answered to answer this fully.  What is sin?  Can we be forgiven of sins we don’t confess?  Is is possible to confess every sin?

What is sin?  I am going to take off my hat of theologian, hat of biblical scholar, and just answer as best I can without digging through theology books and never finding a complete answer.  Sin is an act of selfishness.  A sin is an act that places your own self-interest above the interest of another or above God, even if that “another” is an abstraction without an actual victim.  I know there are books of the law and rules and regulations but I think all can be distilled down to this.  It’s also, essentially, the inverse of the greatest commandments (He replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.  All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.” – Matthew 22:37-40 CEB).

The Old Testament is full of laws that speak to the interest of the community above the self-interest of the individual.  I know a lot of people struggle with a lot of the ceremonial purity laws but they were in place to keep the temple clean, and I mean that literally.  A lot of the laws about reproduction and relationships have to do with the survival of the Jewish people as a people, as a race, and as followers of a true God.  So much of the law is about simply putting the needs of other above your own needs and desires.  As such, much of it is irrelevant to today not because Christians pick and choose or they ignore the parts that make them uncomfortable but because the laws would no longer work towards the betterment of others.

Much the same way, I wonder if what Paul said to people had more to do with survival of the new church – and not falling into or being confused with the pagan traditions surrounding them – than with what is actually specifically sinful.  Again, placing the interest of others before yourself.  What that has to do with long hair on women, I’m not quite sure, but I digress.

Okay, so I define sin as “an act that places your own self-interest above the interest of another or above God, even if that “another” is an abstraction without an actual victim.”  The next question is, “Can we be forgiven of sins we don’t confess?”  I say yes, but I have to use the answer to the next question to prove it.  I will mention, though, that there are theological traditions that disagree with me (most notably the Catholic tradition).  Why this is specifically important to Judas is, if you have to confess every sin to be forgiven, then you can’t be forgiven of suicide; it becomes the only unforgivable sin.  Any sins being unforgivable makes me uncomfortable, but this particular one doesn’t go against the rest of the theology of the forgiving nature of Christ so I can only say, my next answer is where my struggle is.

“Is is possible to confess every sin?”  In the most literal sense, no, but I don’t think anyone is really going to argue that.  What I am going to argue is that confessing all of our sins while not being contrite over some of them means we didn’t actually confess all of our sins.

Let me play an example out.  I ate a Big Mac and washed it down with a Large Dr. Pepper, no ice last night.  I followed that with a mixed drink and then about 20 chocolate letter cookies that are the size of big animal crackers.  Guess how guilty I feel about that?  Not at all.  And before you ask how that placed my desires and needs above others, I actively participated in shortening my life for a bit of pleasure so my wife will have to deal with my death while I’m (hopefully) in heaven.

That Big Mac was pretty stinking selfish, right?  Still don’t feel contrite about it.  If I were out and about right now, I’d go have myself another one.  I am selfishly sinning and I feel fine about it.  When I die and my life is playing before my eyes, gluttony and sloth without a bit of remorse is what is going to play for me.  It isn’t going to be pretty, and I will only feel contrition because I’m looking into the face of God.

So what I’m saying is, on my death-bed, I’m going to have sins I haven’t truly repented yet because I’m a fallen human and I am incapable.  I may grow up and learn to feel contrite over gluttony and sloth but then I may pick up greed as I make more money.  At the end, I will not have confessed all of my sins honestly, not acknowledged my sins, and still die.

I believe, in suicide, a person probably feels more sorrow for their own failings and their own sins that most people do.  Judas killed himself because of a grave sin he committed.  To say he wasn’t contrite and aware of his own sin in that moment would be a flaw.  Yes, taking his own life was a sin, but it isn’t the only selfish was to die and if we condemn all people to die in a selfish act, we are condemning a lot of people to Hell.

Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m too much of a bleeding-heart liberal, but I think we need to reevaluate how we view suicide and sin in general.

So is Judas in Hell?  Dante says yes, most people say yes, I say….

To being a coward and not taking a stand,

– Robby

Surviving Long-Distance

I saw this post today on Reddit and I knew, from the start, what caused this and why it didn’t work.  I know because Nora and I had similar things blow up on us.  I know it’s going to cause them to question if their relationship – and engagement as the case is in that story –  is worth the struggle and the pain.  I know how to prevent that.  I know, because I made the mistakes already.

So I decided to put my thoughts on the subject out there for all to read.  This is deviating from the norm of this blog, but yet it still seems relevant if I can salvage one relationship and prevent pain and hurt from anyone.

Note: Some of this is going to seem familiar if you have ever seen The Dating Doctor.  I will admit, some of it boils down to affirming what he says (and I try to give him credit where I can remember him saying it).  Others, though, are my own thought.

Note 2: This is just specific relationship advice to getting into, being in, and coming out of long-distance. There are times when I thought of just basic relationship advice to put but I’m absolutely not qualified to advice on general relationships and every relationships weirdly different, so I stuck to what I know.


Robby’s Long-Distance Relationship Rules

0. I do not ever recommend anyone getting into a Long-Distance relationship

I know one married couple that was successful long-distance. I’ve seen a bunch of couples try long-distance for a variety of reasons and fail. Notice a difference there? One (or two if you include me) vs Many. It doesn’t work most of the time.

0.1 If you are married, most of what I say is irrelevant, and I can’t recommend you ending your marriage because you have to be physically separated for a time.

Never done long-distance married for more than a weekend. If I pretend to know what I’m talking about long-distance marriage, then I am failing. Period.

1. If you are in Long-Distance, or getting into Long-Distance, the immediate end-game of that relationship has to be marriage/lifetime commitment or it won’t work. Period.

If you are just dating, testing the waters, trying to get to know someone more and see if the relationship progresses to a point where you could consider marriage, don’t go long-distance. Yes, that person may be great. Yes, that person may be a good match for a marriage partner. No, that person isn’t the only person you could ever marry successfully. As much as I believe in marriage and finding your soul mate, I’m not delusional enough to believe that out of 7 billion people (3.5 in your preferred gender), there is only one that matches you.  I believe that love is kindled, built, and maintained and part of what makes marriage is how good of a fire you build with what you two bring to the table.  I could meet someone nearly identical to my wife and I wouldn’t love them the way I love my wife because I haven’t built a fire with them.  I love my wife both because of who she is and the experiences we’ve had.

What I’m basically saying, there are other fish in the sea.  If you aren’t already planning on committing your life to this person, don’t go into long-distance.

2. Two years.  Period.

I know I stole this one from The Dating Doctor but I can affirm it 100%.  Nora and I were in long-distance for two years, three months.  The hardest time frame of that was the last 3 months, which was also the only time when we knew exactly when we were no longer going to be in long-distance.

If you look at the calendar that is your life and you plan on being apart more than two years, don’t do it to yourself.  How long past two years you have to go will have a lot to do with it – don’t jump ship for ten days after two years – but I will guarantee the hardest times you have in long-distance are after two years.

3. Surprise trips are for Rom. Coms. only. In real life, they all mostly all fail.

I’m going tell you a little story. I was living in Sioux City but I had a wedding to go to in Milford, IA. I had it on my calendar as the correct weekend; somehow, in telling Nora, she had it as the weekend after. As I’m preparing to go to this wedding (and leave within the hour I believe), I get a call from Nora saying she is on her way to Sioux City. She decided to surprise me for the weekend, and I wasn’t going to be there for most of Saturday.

If I were to pinpoint a point where I thought we weren’t going to make it, and it wasn’t in those last three months, that’s the point I would pinpoint.

The problem with surprise trips is that you are dating but you lead two completely different lives that happen to intersect occasionally.  To assume that you can force them to intersect without planning is romantic, thoughtful, loving, and stupid.  Really, really stupid.

Real life doesn’t work that way.  When you try to make your live intersect without planning and fail fantastically, it creates trust issues – especially if they are busy with someone that could be a potential mate if you weren’t in the picture – and pretty impressive delusions about commitment issues that the other party has even though there is probably no truth to it.

Plan trips.  It isn’t as romantic, it doesn’t fit into a romance movie, and it doesn’t blow up in your face.  You pick which one your are most worried about.

4. Talk to each other at least once between sleeps.

I’ve been in two long-distance relationships; one lasted 6 weeks, one lasted the duration and now we’re married.  One major difference between the two:

When we are apart, Nora and I talk every day without fail.

We do that even now that we are married.  The only time we didn’t do that is when she was on a cruise ship and I was in Southwest Iowa, and it was horrible.  She actually couldn’t make it the entire cruise and called me before they got back.

This needs to happen.

4.1 Though it takes work, talking every day should never be a chore.  

If talking every day to the person you are in a long-distance relationship with is a chore and you don’t want to do it, that is probably the best sign you should break it off. You aren’t committed to each other enough to make this work. That isn’t to say you couldn’t work if you were in close proximity but long-distance isn’t design for this relationship. Stop dating. Keep in touch if you want, but just stop putting yourself through the struggle when your heart isn’t into it.

5. Long-Distance requires more trust then marriage under the same roof.

I don’t know if anyone else will agree with me on this one, or if I just trust my wife an inordinately high amount because of long-distance, but I haven’t tested the depths of my trust for her since we got married, and we live two very different schedules and she works with men and drives some of them home sometimes. Long-distance, on the other hands, tested the depths of my trust on a nearly daily basis.

It’s the nature of the beast. If you are going to trust someone to live a completely autonomous life and yet remain loyal and faithful to you, it requires a level of trust that I don’t know how I did. I can’t even describe how much I had to trust her.

5.1 You also need to be trustworthy

About the only things in this world more loyal than Nora are labrador retrievers and Subaru wagons. About the only thing more honest than me is a voice recorder. We each have a laundry list of faults but in these two areas, we were set up to be perfect for long-distance.

5.2 Communication builds trust. You should be the best communicating

partners of all time to make long-distance work.
When we went through Prepare and Enrich, we got the highest possible score on communication. Kat was super-impressed. We have lots of other weaknesses, but by God we can communicate!

Successful long-distance relationships foster that naturally, but there should always be an effort to do improve communication at all times. Trust me, it can change breaking up over driving four hours to an empty house to shifting plans and making the most out of a bad situation. And increase trust and sense of commitment all at the same time.

6. Being a strong conversation partner is super freaking helpful.

The majority of your time together is going to be spent talking. In 2014 your can see each other while you talk, but that’s about all you can do. Maybe synchronize a Netflix movie and hope your internet connection is reliable enough to handle both at once. Beyond that, the bulk of your relationship is going to be talking. It’s probably a good idea to know how to have a long conversation with someone, and be with someone you enjoy long conversations with.

6.1 You are going to burn through most, if not all, of your stories while you are in Long-Distance.

Nora likes to have me tell her stories. I like to tell her stories. She’s heard almost all of my stories. The ones she hasn’t heard, I don’t recall without prompting of some sort. We’ve been married for nearly a year, been in the same city two years longer, and last month was the first time in those three years I had a story she hadn’t heard that wasn’t something that happened within those three years.

Just a heads up. No idea what to do about it besides get really good about talking politics, religion, and other hot-button topics so you can keep talking and not get bored (or let TV be how you interact).

7. It sucks.

If this weren’t a Christian website, I would have put a explicative on that, or maybe ten. It is probably the worst thing that you can do to your relationship. Here’s a few examples of why:

Like physical contact of any sort, especially the romantic kind? Once a month, if you are lucky. Like doing activities together? Once a month. Like cooking together? Once a month. Like to do silent things in the same room as that person (work, write, read, draw, etc.)? Never, because you are too busy during that once a month you have with each other having physical contact, doing activities, and cooking. you don’t have a normal relationship because all of your time together is distilled into one weekend a month and two weeks a year. Actually probably less than that. Yup, you have less time with your significant other than the Guard has with its people.

It sucks. Having a relationship that you can’t live without and is ending with marriage is the only reason to tough it out.

8. This is a short list.

This is just the stuff that is specific to being in any kind of long distance relationship. On top of all of this, you are also in a unique relationship that you have to foster in the same way that everyone else does. Long distance isn’t a special kind of relationship; it’s an additional hardship placed on a regular relationship. Relationships are tough; long-distance just is a specially level of tough.

Caveat: There are exceptions to every rule. For some reason, super-busy people who don’t have time to date tend to work really well in long-distance because they can have that connection, that permanence, and yet live an autonomous life. I’ve seen that more in marriages than dating but it applies. And it’s weird. But it works and their happy, so who am I to judge.

Caveat to the Caveat: If you feel the need to express that you are the exception to the rule, you aren’t. If you feel the need to defend your relationship, you aren’t the exception to the rule. If, though, your relationship works, you both are happy, and there isn’t resentment, you are the exception. Pat yourself on the back, give each other a hug when you see each other, and know I hate you for being an exception to the rules.


I hope this helps someone.  I don’t want to claim God status or to have supreme knowledge, but this is some stuff I wish I had known going in.  And don’t break up because some guy on the internet told you to; I don’t know you or your relationship. Take it with the grain of salt it deserves, weight what it means to you, and try to learn from the many times I messed up.

To love, happiness, marriage, and the blessing that Skype had on long-distance relationships,

– Robby

“I messed up…”

Anyway, one of the best sermons I’ve written in the last few months ever, I suppose, was when I spent some time just musing on here about what was rolling around in my head about the passage I was going to preach on.  So I’m going to do that again.

For Lent I’ve been preaching on how the Holy Week affected different groups and individuals.  The first week I did the standard bystanders that watched these events happen.  This last Sunday I talked about how the disciples, as a group, would have responded to what was happening.  This week I’m talking about the denier, Peter.

This week is going to be a deviation from what I’ve done the last two weeks for a couple of reasons.  The first is that I’m deviating from what I have been drawing source material from.  Before Lent I was going through Luke a chunk at a time, and I decided, since we were already in Luke, I could just keep with it and pull source material from Luke for the series, and then pick up where I left off after Pentecost.

When you look at the first two groups, that actually works out fairly well.  There is quite a bit you can pull; the only thing that was missing that I had to pull from somewhere else is the mention of the striking the shepherd and the sheep scattering, and I only needed to mention it in passing because everything else I wanted to draw from was there.

No so with Peter.  One of the benefits that you get with talking about the disciples as a whole using Luke is that the author doesn’t tell you who cut off the guard’s ear.  You can leave it anonymous, allowing Peter to exit this role of super-close companion and let him be just one of the 11 in the group.  It makes it easier to look at the group and get the emotions they were feeling.

When you talk specifically about Peter, though, it’s kind of nice to know that he is the one who did it.  Because of that, I have to pull from the other gospels to get a more complete picture of Peter.  I’m always torn on this – I have a bias towards letting individual books speak for themselves and not pulling from other to justify a message – but I think allowing scripture to interpret itself and forming a complete picture given the four sources we have on the topic is a fair method of interpretation.  And I’m not cherry picking – at least, I don’t think I’m cherry picking – and I’m letting Luke provide the basis of the story, only using other gospels to fill on holes.

It’s fair, I think….

Here is my scripture list for this sermon:
Luke 22:7-13
Luke 22:31-34
Matthew 26:36-46
John 18:1-11
Luke 22:54-62

A decent list.  I’m not typically a multi-passage preacher (single passage almost exclusively) but I’m trying to tell a story and having more source material is good.  And I’ve been using this multi-passage format to introduce the congregation to various other biblical translations.  I respect the NKJV for what it is but I just…I just think there are better translations out there.

The other way I am shifting gears is that I’m talking about an individual, not a group. Palm Sunday I’m going to be talking about the Pharisees and Scribes as a group; every week between now and then I’m going to be talking about an individual.

Part of talking about an individual is defining them within their group.  That said, it’s more about getting a complete picture of the person, not just what we typically see.

Be honest, when you think about Peter and Lent, what comes to mind?

If you said anything other than the denial, you are lying (or you are a better person than me).  Peter denies Christ 3 times, everyone knows that.

Who prepares the meal?  Who goes with Jesus after the departs to pray?  It seems to be relevant to the whole story that Peter is in the inner circle, a trust disciple, and probably the loyalist follower Jesus has.  When he says, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death,” (Luke 22:33 CEB) I believe he meant it completely.  At that moment, had the guards busted in, he would have fought valiantly.  He would have struggled, been arrested or killed, and accept his fate.  He is being straight with Jesus here.

The problem is that he doesn’t find himself in this active role of dying with Christ.  He doesn’t get arrested with Jesus when he’s ready to go, and he doesn’t die when we tries to defend Jesus.  Instead, he is faced with a difficult situation we don’t really talk about.

First, think about his physical state.  They were having dinner where a large cup of wine was shared.  I imagine that plenty of wine was shared between the men.  I don’t want to argue drunkenness but a couple of glasses of wine coupled with general physical exhaustion leads to the situation where the three men are falling asleep while Jesus is praying.

Peter is tired, a little under the influence, and then something crazy happens: Jesus gets arrested!

Okay, that part isn’t crazy.  The Pharisees have been plotting for weeks and haven’t even been quiet about it since they walked into Jerusalem.  This wasn’t that unexpected.

What is crazy is that Peter didn’t get arrested or killed at that moment.  He drew a sword, cut off a guard’s ear – demonstrating just now little understanding he had of swordplay – and not only lived to tell about it but didn’t get arrested.  He has to finds himself in shock in that moment.  He should have been arrested or killed.

Now a bit tipsy, really tired, in shock, and nerves on edge, he finds himself at a fire with strangers.  And they start questioning him, and he can’t handle it.  I don’t know if the logic of this went through his head or if it was subconscious, but this is where he finds himself if he confirms who he is and they do turn on him:

He doesn’t die with Jesus, he doesn’t die a martyr in public, he just dies.

In his shoes, in his physical state, I can easily see where he would think they were going to turn on him and the last thing he needed was to die there, in a back alley, where no one would care.

I don’t know if I could have not denied Christ, either.

Then the rooster crows, he runs to a dark corner, and every motion that he’s felt over the last few hours, day, and years comes out in a stream of guilt-ridden tears.  That’s where we end until Easter.  That’s horrifying, this moment of truth that Peter, the rock of the church, fails miserably, is the end of this story until Easter.

If that leaves you uneasy – it certainly does me – good.  I’m struck with how much we are convinced that we need to be comfortable.  Heck, I have a hard time watching fictional characters on TV when it gets awkward and uncomfortable.  We should not dismiss this as one guy’s denial because all of us could easily have found ourselves in that position.

Not quite as horrifying as thinking about walking around in Judas’s shoes but still a pretty tough pill to swallow.

Okay, that’s enough of that.  Time to drink a beer.

– Robby