Pretty Sure Love Won

I finally read Love Wins.  If you are wondering why it took me…almost 3 years to read it, it’s because I’m not a Rob Bell fan.  I don’t want to get this twisted – I didn’t/don’t have a problem with Rob Bell, I’m just not a fan.  He always struck me as someone who said irrelevant provocative things to stir emotions to make the relevant message more emotionally charged.

But that goes to fandom and enjoyment of his work, not a commentary on what he says.  And I don’t always agree with what he says.  I’m by no means a hard-lined conservative or literalist, but I feel like his relationship with scripture as a written instruction in faith is…looser? weaker? more fluid? insert your own word?…than mine.  But he also probably knows scripture as an academic study more than I do, so I just say I disagree.

I digress.  Why I wrote this post is because a couple of…weeks? months?…ago I read a post about how the evangelical churches have done their best to crucify (we should really use a different word, people!) him for Love Wins and how he just doesn’t appear to care.  He’s just doing his thing, sharing the love of God and preaching the scriptures.

I’m quite positive he does care – more people aren’t so self-confident and self-sure to just not care that the opposition has tried to do to your public perception and humble at the same time – but he didn’t let him stop doing what he believes God has called him to do.

But this post isn’t even about that.  All it’s about is the book, or rather the response to the book.  I read the article, I got on the Amazon, I found a used copy that was Prime eligible, and I read it.

I don’t understand why anyone freaked out about it.  Yes, it is a little bit more liberal than my interpretation, I could have done without the artsy styling, I think he could have been a bit deeper, but he uses scripture, and nothing he says is actually that radical.

His whole premise – as far as I can discern – is to interpret these things through the lens of a loving God.  I’m not going to go into it into depth here – maybe another time after another reading – but the things I remember thinking were missing were punishment as love (and maybe I missed it; I found myself skimming a bit more than I wanted to) and the good desire for piety and seeking righteousness in our lives, even if we can’t attain it.

But he asks some really good questions about the nature of judgement and confession and eternal damnation.  And he asked them through the lens of evaluating a God that is loving first and foremost.  Can a loving God condemn someone who committed a sin and then was plowed into by a train?  Can a loving God condemn someone who was only taught selfish desires and never had a chance to learn a more loving way?  Can a loving God condemn us if we don’t understand sin?  Will a loving God condemn us if we commit this sin but not if we commit that sin?

The specifics of the book I found myself disagreeing with occasionally – though asking me for those specifics is a futile task because I read it during Holy Week and funeral planning – but the whole theme is one that I’ve been pushing in this blog, in my preaching, in my ministry, and in my life.

We have a loving God, people.  There are groups that preach that message, but in the same breath preach a message where God seems to enjoy sending those dirty sinners to Hell.  There is a theme of making sure people know that they are sinners but excluding the ultimate relief in Jesus Christ.  Some of the Church and Body of Christ finds itself to be a Good Friday church instead of being an Easter/Pentecost church.  So much focus on the sins and how screwed up we are – and we really are, trust me – without much focus on despite that, we are saved and loved.

As I read the book, I could understand why you could possibly not like it – I tried to like it, and I loved the premise, but I found myself underwhelmed – and I could see you disagreeing with it – like I said, I didn’t agree with every conclusion he made – but try as I might, I don’t understand why people started railing against Rob Bell after this book.  I don’t get it.

The only answer I can come up with is that there are people who want God to punish those dirty sinners, and this book strikes at the very soul of that theology.  It strikes me as awfully arrogant to be for a judgmental God, like somehow you, and those who think, act, and look like you, have an exclusive corner on the gift of Christ.  That is the only reason you would label Rob Bell a heretic after reading Love Wins.

I don’t get it.  I read the book thinking I would disagree with his premise and his thought process.  I avoided reading it because I didn’t care about another liberal book diminishing sin.  And I was wrong on both accounts.  I did find it anemic and a bit too trendy, but I, for the life of me, can’t imagine why anyone would freak out over this book.

Unless you want a God that judges the sins of others.*

The premise of this post is simply that.  The crucifixion of Rob Bell seems to be worded correctly if you truly believe he is a heretic over this book.  The only reason you would have that big of a problem with him is if you want God to judge someone else.  To use the same story that Bell uses in the book, you have to believe that the older brother was right in The Prodigal Son to really want to bash him for this book.

The book shouldn’t even be controversial.  Heck, I’m of the opinion it shouldn’t have even raised eyebrows; it wasn’t really that groundbreaking or crazy.  Had he written a theological book (this wasn’t) and ignored scripture (he didn’t) and said Hell didn’t exist and sin didn’t exist (he didn’t, again), then maybe.  But this wasn’t it.

Three days after Easter I am writing this.  Yesterday I performed a funeral for a woman whom I only met two days before Alzheimer’s took her life.  Both times I preached of salvation and heaven and Christ’s resurrection.

I’m pretty sure love won.  That’s what Rob Bell wrote about, and I agree with that.

So I can’t have a post about Rob Bell without mentioning the last bit of controversy.  You know, how he supposedly trashed the Bible?

Didn’t happen.  Again, I think if we want to have an adult debate and conversation about the theological statements that he makes, it’s perfectly fine to disagree with him.  But he isn’t watering down scripture as much as you want to believe he is because he interprets differently.  I looked up the exact quote people are freaking out about and here it is

“I think culture is already there and the church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense, when you have in front of you flesh-and-blood people who are your brothers and sisters, and aunts and uncles, and co-workers and neighbors, and they love each other and just want to go through life,

Is he implying that the here and now trumps scripture?  No.  Read it again and you see that he says letters.  Which means he said the epistles, but he always uses the vernacular of the people who are seeking, not the clergy and the choir.

Tear that down a bit.  The Gospels, which is the lens we read all of scripture through, remain in tact.  The Old Testament, as much as can stay in tact because after Jesus, stays in tact.  He says that the epistles, which were letters written by men to churches 2000 years ago, are not a solid defense for not allowing people who love one another to be with one another.

I want you to think about this for a second.  Any exegetical study is lacking if it does not include the context of which the letter was written.  When he says letters written 2000 years ago, he is saying that they were written in a different world.  God is timeless and the message of Christ is timeless; the message of men is not.

(Side-note, I’m not using sexist language.  I’m being quite literal; we are using the letters of men 2000 years ago – not all people but men in leadership.  I don’t think that distracts from their efficacy or their eligibility for presence in canon but it contributes to their context for interpretation.)

We have to consider what kinds of actions Paul – because let’s be honest, that’s who we’re talking about – is actually addressing, if they are relevant to the current conversation, or if it is a different matter of practice.  Not going to get into the discussion here, but let’s just be honest about what Rob Bell said.

He said that we can’t use letters written 2000 years ago as our justification for doing painful, hurtful, or judgmental things.  We can’t.

He isn’t wrong on the major point no matter how much you want him to be.  He doesn’t trash scripture, he doesn’t even imply that scripture is bad.  He just said that we can’t use the words in the epistles, written in a different world, as justification for actions that they don’t prescribe as response to actions they don’t address.

But you have to be fair, treat everyone as they are doing the best they can, that you aren’t somehow holier than they are, and you can’t label people heretics who read scripture faithfully different than you do.  That isn’t debate; that is arrogance.  It’s the same response Mark Achtemeier received after he defended Scott Anderson, and I know that Mark is faithful to scripture and a faithful theologian.  He didn’t trash scripture or even diminish it in the slightest.

The whole point, I believe, of this point is to get to an idea that those who violently disagreed with Love Wins want a God that saves them and judges people who disgust them.  The problem is that we shouldn’t be disgusted with others** but with ourselves.  If God is punishing all the dirty sinners, we are screwed, and screwed royally.***  So if we are championing that God, we are championing being sent to Hell ourselves.

Not the God I worship, and if that is the real God, I guess I don’t worship that God.

Now time to wrestle up some grub and then maybe write the food piece.

Peace,

– Robby


* The only major criticism of the theology of the book I can get behind is the lack of piety in it.  I don’t know if piety needed to even be addressed – and frankly, the lack didn’t bother me that much – but it isn’t there, and a conversation about Heaven and Hell without Christian living and piety seems to be lacking.  Again, though, that is my opinion and not something to start calling people not pastors over.

** There are certain actions that repulse us from a biological or cultural standpoint; I’m talking about Christian disgust, not physical or psychological disgust.  Those are different things, which I wonder if that gets at the heart of the issue more than everything else I wrote.

*** Super-Reform here.  I know our Methodist brothers and sisters might disagree, but that’s a MUCH DIFFERENT CONVERSATION.  MUCH DIFFERENT!

I Just Don’t Have Words

I am not quite sure how to address this.  Last week I wrote the piece that I wrote.  You know where I am on how people are responding.  But my comments where much more about the philosophical and political response, the words and practices of what is being done about church associations and a unified body of Christ.

So I want to make sure that I am absolutely clear.  The people that I responded to last week are not who I’m responding to today.

I woke up this morning to see that 4 churches were threatened with violence because of the decision that was made.  Literally, somebody threatened to burn the churches down in this area, not because the pastors were doing anything (or that they even can because it isn’t legal in Missouri) but because of the decision of the national church.  I have words, but they ring hollow.  I can write how this is antithetical to scripture, how it is antithetical to Jesus, how it makes no sense, but that is my desire to make sense of a senseless threat.All I can do is pray for peace in the hearts of those who send threats like this, safety for those who are threatened, and a sense of love and unity that transcends our Earthly desires.  I can’t make sense of it, as I shouldn’t.  I just pray for peace and love.

– Robby

The Need for Unity and Love

Let’s dive right in.  Last night is was announced that Proposed Amendment to the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA) 14-F will pass.  The vote is unofficial as of this moment, but enough presbyteries have responded to show that it will pass.

What is Proposed Amendment to the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA) 14-F?  It is the amendment that allows pastors who believe that same-sex marriage is something that can be blessed by God to perform same-sex marriages in jurisdictions that it is legal (and perform ceremonies blessing civil unions already created) and sessions to use their facilities for such ceremonies.  To do this, it redefines marriage to be between two people instead of a man and a woman.

Now, if you are wondering why I wrote that as a description of something humdrum and rote, it’s because I don’t particularly care about the decision. I could make it all sensationalized, write it in a way that charges the emotions and sets your battling heart afire, but this, to me, is not that big of a decision. It does not compel any action whatsoever. Pastors who want to refuse to have any part of same-sex marriages are empowered to do so. Any sessions that want to categorically deny the use of their facilities for same-sex marriages can do so. Pastors and sessions who believe God can bless and be present and the third person in a same-sex marriage can do so. It is freeing, not compelling.  Anyone can treat it as the same interpretation as it was before if they desire.  It simply takes the decision of conscious and put it in the hands of sessions and pastors instead of the General Assembly.

I happen to believe that our restrictions on same-sex marriage hold a lot less biblical weight than a restriction on second marriages after divorce would and are a symptom of discomfort, not strong morality. I think we should be seeking, as churches, to be welcoming people who want Christ to be part of their lives to invite Christ into every facet of their lives and because same-sex civil union (legal marriage, which I think should be the term for all contracts that bound two people, not just same-sex) will soon be nation-wide and likely federally recognized, we should act in a way that opens the door for the Spirit to work within all couples that are legally bound and have Christ bless all unions. Call me crazy, but forcing people to seek Spiritual care, counsel, and guidance elsewhere because of homosexuality strikes me as antithetical to the message of love in the gospel.

That’s what I think about the decision. That’s my answer, as I am able to state it right now.  I wrote that before I had even gotten out of my pajamas, before I had any coffee, I spent the day working on a sermon and worship prep, and my position hasn’t changed.  That’s what I think of the decision.

But, as I said, I don’t particularly feel strongly about it.  I don’t think it as historical of an issue for the church as everyone feels it is, and I think our desire to make it historical has more to do with emotions and right now than it does with 20 years from now.  But that’s me.

You know what I do care about, though?  Hatred and disunity in my church.

If you read that post I wrote last week, you had a glimpse into the struggles I’ve had getting ordained.  There were multiple times I contemplated leaving this church that I love so much because the ordination process was killing my faith.  There were times that I felt this church that raised me and helped me grow was pushing me out and wanted nothing to do with my ministry.  I had to choose to be here, to fight to be there, and sacrifice time in my career (and likely some of Nora’s career) to stay in this church.  And I’m on the right path now, I see a light at the end of the tunnel – and the tunnel isn’t nearly as dark as it used to be – and ordination no longer feels like a pipe dream but an eventuality if I’m willing to work for it.

I had to fight to stay here, though.  I chose to be in this church, and made that decision multiple times when it felt like it was the wrong decision.  I would not have done that if I didn’t love this church, love God, and worship a savior through Biblical means.

Here is what I’ve seen my church do since the passing of 10-A in 2010 and affirmation by presbyteries in 2011:

Disunity and Hatred

I decided to visit the websites of the two PC(USA) groups that fall on the radical ends of the spectrum – the Covenant Network and the Layman – to see what each had to say.  The Covenant Network had a simple letter expressing joy that the measure they had worked to get passed had come to fruition yet understanding that it would create a rift between Presbyterians and hope that the conversation between them could continue.  In honesty, I thought it was a classy gesture and expressed joy while recognizing that not all would be celebrating.

I can’t fault them for that.  They faithfully believed this was the action that God was calling them to, and the celebrated in having it pass.  It’s the same as celebrating victory in an election.

I wanted to present a balanced account of how people were responding and yet I couldn’t because the response wasn’t balanced.  Covenant Network’s letter was about unity and not compelling any action.

When I visit the Layman, I was horrified as I was in 2011 to see how they responded.  I want to give them a benefit of the doubt, that they truly believe that this is so antithetical to Biblical teachings that all who agree with it should be labeled as heretics and stop being called pastors.  (To the Layman’s benefit, much of my horror was from the comment section and not the letter – though the letter wasn’t exactly unifying, either – but those comments point to a mentality.)  I can’t give them the benefit of the doubt when I read nothing but judgement – not admonition or disagreement – in their response.

I can’t understand it because I know people who were fighting this battle on the side that won.  I know pastors who have fought this battle from day one who are biblical teachers, well read and knowledgable and faithful.  I know scholars who have spent a considerable amount of time with the scriptures, the historical context of the words, and the style of literature each book is made up of, and come to conclusions that aren’t just well reasoned but faithful and Spirit-filled, in my opinion.

I know these people.  Some of these people are the reason I’m still in the process and didn’t jump ship.  Some of them have radically changed by views through use of the scriptures – the whole scriptures.  They have made me better at preaching, better at interpreting, better at every facet of ministry.  I am three or four times the pastor I would have been had I just been with people who agreed with me.  I still disagree with many of them – MANY – but I am better, and hopefully they are, too, because we butted heads.

So when I see people calling these faithful, loving, well-read, and Bible-followers heretics, evil, non-pastors, or anything other than loving Christian leaders, I get incredibly angry and I see a symptom of our fallenness.  We desire to be right so much that when we think we are right and the majority disagree with us, instead of seeking to find a way to reconcile that, and reconcile back with each other, we lash out and act in hatred instead of love.

That is unacceptable.  I had a list of people who I believed where literally pushing me out of the PC(USA) for no reason other than they didn’t like me.  Those feelings lead me to lash out at the process – not necessarily the wrong things to say in the situation, but certainly not done in a pastoral way to people who were judging my fitness for pastoral ministry – and that lashing out rightly risked me being removed from the process.  Everything that lead up to it was wrong, but my lashing out made it worse, and needlessly so.

Lashing out of emotion is not helpful.  It may feel good in the moment – I know it did for me – but it does nothing but create hostility.  If you are going to claim that your lashing out is because of something in scripture, show me in the same book of 66 pieces of literature where lashing out of emotion is how to reconcile differing opinions.

The other response from the losing side I see is the victim status.  I could spend hours dissecting that and saying why I think it is childish and baseless, but I’m going to say this:

Nothing in this decision compels anyone to do anything, and no one made this decision outside of their understanding of scripture.  You don’t get to claim victim status if it has no effect on your ministry and wasn’t an attack on your beliefs.

All teaching elders require seminary education, and there isn’t a PC(USA) seminary that doesn’t have exegesis courses.  We may not all agree on the path of interpretation, but we all have a strong background in interpretation because of our educations and the heritage we come from.  No one is a heretic in this situation – conservative or liberal.  You can’t make that claim every time you lose; you have to be an adult about it.

Fight for the next 100 GA’s.  Create resolutions every two years.  Discuss and debate passionately and peacefully.  Spend time honing your Biblical, theological, and historical arguments, and make them stronger so your position can become the majority position.  I encourage it; that’s how we grow.

What you cannot do, period, is claim that anyone who disagrees with you does not follow Christ.  It’s not fair, and you know it.

The other half of victim status is presbyteries who are making it difficult for churches to leave the denomination.  I’ve seen it a couple of times today, and I just want to address it like this:

I think leaving a denomination, further splintering the Body of Christ, is the wrong action.  Period.  If you can show me where we are supposed to fracture and splinter over disagreements of teachings and faithful interpretation in scripture, I will delete this whole thing and publicly shame myself.  But it’s not there.

We are one Body.  One.  I support presbyteries who make it difficult for congregations to leave – especially over an issues that have no effect on ministries that don’t want to have an effect on them – because we preach unity.

If the decisions today were to compel pastors to perform the ceremonies and sessions to allow them under their roof, then I would think the splintering was done to the congregations.  As it is now – and has been stated as the goal all along – the decision is to lie with the teaching elders and sessions.  You can be blunt about disagreeing, vocal about not doing it, put it in bylaws.  You are not forced to be something you cannot faithfully be, and splintering because effectively nothing changed for you is unacceptable and an emotional response.

And again, if it were truly heresy, then it would no longer represent the Body of Christ.  As it is, we also ordain women and allow women to enter the church while menstruating and eat shrimp and say slavery is bad and no longer have concubines and polygamy, all of which is from scripture.  This isn’t a heretical decision much like saying slavery is bad wasn’t a heretical decision; it is an interpretation of scripture, done faithful and humbly.

We cannot become splintered because of this.  We can’t just run away every time we don’t get our way.  Some of us fought to serve this church and find it offensive that people are willing to split because a decision didn’t go their way.

And ignoring my selfishness, that isn’t the way we show love to one another.  If you truly believe something is evil, you stick around and lovingly try to fix it.  If you believe someone has erred, you admonishing them lovingly, from a position of humility, and seek to reconcile.  You don’t respond out of hate, disunity, and a desire to break apart.

We are called to be One Body, and confess to One God.  Maybe we should worry a little bit more about that and not a decision of conscious being given to the individual churches instead of a mandate from on high.

Breathe in.  Breathe out.  Pray my sermon – which is completely irrelevant to this blog post – is actually Spirit filled and not just me blabbering for 15 minutes tonight.

In Christ and out of love,

– Robert

I did something pretty

One day I got distracted by Illustrator.  I had this concept in my head for about a week and I wanted to realize it in a real way.

It started with this first one:

AlienwmI liked it, but I guess I decided he was a bit exclusive.  Not only boys have broken hearts.  Thus:Alien2wmAnd I was pleased.  But then I realized, if they have identical hearts, and their both broken, maybe they can put them together and be happy with each other.  Because I’m sappy and all:

Alien3wmYeah, this blog is literally anything from day to day.  Thus, I have an “Irrelevancies” category, but this is relevant to nothing.  But I like it!

It made me smile.  I suppose this is my moment of delight this week.

To doing something fun, even if you are amazing at it…

– Robby

P.S.: Probably won’t be relevant but obviously these are my work and I reserve all rights to them.  If I see them off this blog, I better see/be able to click a link back here.

Struggling with Isaiah 6:9

So if you saw the beginning of the most horrifying and nerve-wracking thing I’ve ever done the Sermon Podcast, you saw that I preached on Luke 5:4-15 on Sunday.  If you listened to it (you did listen to it, didn’t you?), you know that I focused on the metaphor of the soils, like every other preacher in the world does.  For the sermon, that is where the focus had to be, but there was something that I didn’t get to address in this sermon that has been stuck in my craw since exegeting the passage.

Read Luke 8:10 and then Isaiah 6:9, which is what Jesus is referencing in the Luke verse.  Read the surrounding context.  Then you tell me if that makes you feel good.

No?  Doesn’t feel great?  Feels pretty crappy, actually?  Great, then you are where I was.

I really struggled with this.  The idea of making the entire sermon about that one verse briefly crossed my mind because of just how difficult I find that verse.  It strikes me as deliberately deceptive.  If I reworded that honestly using just English translations, I would word it as, “I’m talking in parables so other are confused and don’t understand, and it will blind them so they don’t see the glory of God.”

If you want to scream shenanigans at this sort of method, I agree with you.  I have always had a problem with deceptive preaching and deceptive teaching.  I know preachers who will start a sermon by preaching at the congregation believes and they attach those beliefs with “true” teachings – though, oddly, those “true” teachings often come down to interpretive issues, not strong immorality – and, though effective, is also rather condescending and self-righteous.  I can see validity in this method for humble prophetic messages – an emphasis on “humble” and “prophetic” – but for standard correction of teaching, I think this is unacceptable.

To address those who may say it’s really effective, I make my congregation question their beliefs regularly (for the sake of questioning, not necessarily because they are wrong) and search for deeper, truer truths and beliefs closer to Christ’s actual call in the gospel, and I’m straight and honest about it.  I don’t like being deceived or lied to, and that shows in my preaching.

Okay, off my rant horse for a bit.  I just have a problem with this who idea of hiding the message.  So, as a good exegete and horrible procrastinator, I went down the rabbit hole of Isaiah 6:9.  I looked at the Hebrew (and learned how rusty my Hebrew skills have become) and tried to rationalize a different translation.  I’ll tell ya, my BibleWorks is set up with many good and different translations and I couldn’t come to a different translation than I already had in front of me that got me past this hang-up and to a point where I wanted to pull a Thomas Jefferson and start cutting verses I didn’t like out of the Bible.

So how do I deal with this?  What am I missing?

When you don’t understand something, ask someone for help.  In life, that usually means a call to a trusted elder, in career, a trusted mentor.  In biblical exegesis, though, we don’t often have that person who was can call.  Instead, we have to hope someone has written something somewhere that will answer our questions and not make more1.  So I looked up at my book shelf, saw an Isaiah commentary that I bought cheap and haven’t used yet, and found the entry on 6:8-11.

Baumgartel, by way of Otto, wrote something in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament that started to chip away at this very difficult passage:

Every word of the prophet will merely make them (his hearers) even wiser in their human thoughts, and will make them more determined not to abandon their human attitude, in which they consider they are so firm and unassailable2.

At the moment I read it, it put the idea to rest enough for me to abandon it at the moment and go back to sermon writing.  Sermon came out fast, I got all of my worship materials finished, and I rewarded myself with a beer.  Life was good.

At the same time, I still struggled with that one verse.  Even when I was standing at the pulpit, trying to impress visitors and preach something better because I was recording, this verse caught me up.  I glossed it over, as my sermon needed, but I still find it festering in the back of my mind.

So Wednesday, days removed from the sermon and the next sermon leering from the distance, I’m still wondering about this verse.  What does it mean?

Look back at what Baumgartel said.  When I read these verses, I get stuck on the speaker.  I get stuck on how it seems that the speakers intent is to deceive and condemn.  If you look around this blog, or hear my sermons, I focus a lot on love, and that is certainly not a loving act.

I get stuck on the speaker and I don’t even consider the ears that are hearing it.  I don’t consider that they may not be in a position to hear what they need to hear, or that these teachings are going to turn them off.  I want so badly for every prophet to have the success of Jonah but that isn’t the case3.

God wasn’t telling Isaiah to make the people daft and to make reject the message. He was telling Isaiah to go to the people and preach the message even though they would refuse to understand it and refuse to see it. It seems like a bit of a stretch, but it works and here’s why:

God isn’t above being a bit passive-aggressive.  Read it like this: Listen, even though you won’t understand; watch, even though you won’t see.  It’s subtle, and I would listen to arguments that this doesn’t paint God in the best light, but it’s there.

This may seem weird, but read it through the lens of Nineveh.  If the Judeans would have approached Isaiah’s message with humility, God probably would have changed His mind.  If they had heard the message, and I mean heard it in their hearts and not just the physical and intellectual act of hearing.  If they were humble enough to recognize their own flaws, they could have avoided this.  If they would have understood that they were fallible, they could have avoided this.  If they had repented, they could have avoided this.

If Isaiah were to go to humble people and give this message, they would change.  He isn’t going to humble people, and so his message will do nothing but shut them off and make them fall deeper down the hole that leads to the exile.  In the command in Isaiah 6:9, God is telling Isaiah to say, “Listen to me even though you will hear and not understand; watch as I teach and even though refuse to see the message.”  Yes, it sets them up for condemnation and assumes it before he even starts, but, again, though the lens of Nineveh, they aren’t condemned until it is over.  God just knows their hearts, and knows the outcome.

Back to Luke.  What exactly is Jesus saying here?  I’m going to conjecture a bit here, but I think, when we read “disciples” in the gospels, we wrongly assume it’s only to the 12.  In all honesty, we have no reason to assume that.  There are multitudes there, and Gingrich (according to BibleWorks) says that we can, in practice, use the word “Christian” to translate “μαθητης”4 in Acts, even if it isn’t the best literal translation, which means we can probably assume that this means something more than the 12.  So, when Jesus is saying this, he is saying that those who are followers have been shown and will be taught; those who aren’t will be confused and refuse to learn.  He isn’t being intentionally deceptive; just that his teaching allude those who are unwilling to follow.

Kind of, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink no matter how hard you whip it.”  Something like that.

So there you go.  If you have ever wanted to see what it’s like in my mind when I exegete, there you have it.  If not, then why did you read this whole thing?

To curiosity in exegesis, not just the task at hand,

– Robby


1Just need to say that getting more questions than answers is great as a mental exercise and desiring that a philosophical position, but it screws with sermon writing.  You can’t say, “I don’t know” at the end of a sermon more than a couple of times a year before they start asking why they need to listen to you say your understand isn’t any greater than theirs.  Even if we are humble, teachers have to accept and act within the authority they have, even if it requires speaking in truths instead of questions.

2Kaiser, Otto. The Old Testament Library – Isaiah 1-12.  (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1972).  p. 83.

3I love Jonah. Even though he runs away, gets swallowed by the whale, begrudgingly preaches the prophetic message, and wants so badly for the people to be condemned, they still turn it around and follow God. Makes me smile, even if Jonah was a bit of a drama queen about it.

4What I could do in WordPress for Greek word. I know it’s missing an accent; sue me.

Brother’s Gaga

I had a roommate in seminary whose name was Joe Obermeyer.  We called him Jober.  He was a good friend.

We used to go on guy dates all the time.  Subway was an occasional spot but we found ourselves eating tacos and drinking margaritas as Los Aztecas quite a bit.  On weeks that Nora worked the weekend, we would have our guy time; when she was available, he would often join us for dinner.

I spent a lot of time in the Jober.  We were younger guys, I was unmarried and him single, our ministries were both local, and we found ourselves with a small amount of free time that others in our seminary community didn’t have.

Long story short, we spent a lot of time together.

All of that was to tell this story.  This was around the time that “Bad Romance” had gotten popular and we had a song that we sang together constantly that went something like this:

WOAHOAHOAHOAHOAHOAHOAHOAHOAHOAH!  Caught in a bad bromance!

It was our theme song. As we marched into the Mexican restaurant, cheap margaritas and tacos on our minds, this song was always on our lips.  I’m pretty sure our roommate Matt, Nora, and anyone else who had to hear us this these few lyrics sang over and over again wanted to murder us, but we sang it forever.

I miss my friend.  He is rocking it in North Dakota, living the dream and serving God, so we don’t get to see each other very often, but it is always a great time when we do.

I will always remember my “Bad Bromance” and the stupid song rewrite that we did.  I’m sure more than a view people had honest considerations of murder.

But it is such a good memory.  Nothing big, nothing crazy, just brings a smile to my face.

To cheap Mexican food and margaritas!

– Robby

Who am I?

I ask myself this question more than the average bear, I suppose.  I find myself wondering who it that I am from moment to moment.  I stand in a pulpit and I’m a teacher, and a teacher of the Word none the less.  I stand behind a camera and all of a sudden I’m back to a previous self that doesn’t understand how people blush at certain words and sound like I spent a considerable amount of time on a naval vessel.  Put a beer in front of me and I’m somewhere in between.  If I find myself behind a keyboard, all of a sudden I am forcing myself to be vulnerable.  In a meeting, I’m a closed vault of sorts.

At any moment, I have to decide which me is going to come through.  Actively decide.  I have to choose what level of vulnerability, brashness, and that intangible but always known “sailor talk” is appropriate in every moment.  I actually spend an inordinate about of time deciding if I need to go through and change every “hell” and “damn” I’ve put in this blog.

As much as I may want it to, it doesn’t make me unique.  Every adult has to do that.  Every person who ministers really has to do this.  If you stand at a pulpit, you are hyper-vigilant about it.  You have to decide how honest you are in the pulpit, on the street, and in the hospital room.  Do you show a bit of vulnerability at the risk of authority?  How do you balance that?

This has been weighing on me because I find myself wanting to be more honest and vulnerable from the pulpit.  I’m not desiring to make it my therapy session or a session to air my dirty laundry, but I still feel like there is a certain amount of “faking it” in my sermons.  I had a conversation with one of the ladies of the church after Sunday worship one week and we got to talking about my sermons and somehow it went to our imperfection.  I will never forget her words:

…when you talk about the bad things you’ve done in your sermons, you aren’t that bad.

“…not that bad.” I have to chuckle because I know myself, and I know the whole history. I smile because I know there are weeks that my exegesis is paired with a decent sized glass of bourbon. I chuckle because I think about editing a sermon while South Park is on in the background.  I shake my head because I think about the actual bad things I’ve done, and the things that I thought were really bad.  And I’m torn because I know that those facts shared from the pulpit in a pastoral way would make me more accessible to some people hearing my teachings and yet would drive away other that hear because I cannot meet a certain standard of “piety”, even if my not meeting that standard is a conscious, thought-out choice.

Again, though, this doesn’t make me unique.  If I lined up all of my pastor/preacher friends, I could similar conversations.  Maybe they don’t want to talk about their whiskey and entertainment choices, but maybe there is a bad decision they made or a horribly difficult life situation that they have to hide while in the pulpit that would open up relationships because of the vulnerability it shows and it makes the preacher, the teacher “real”.  The line of how vulnerable and “real” we are supposed to be while preaching, while teaching, and while interacting and providing care for those who we are charged with leading is not straight and changes in thickness, depending on the day, person, and situation.  An act of vulnerability can be too vulnerable, just right, or not vulnerable enough and not change in the slightest.

It’s a battle and “game” that anyone in a caring profession – ministry, counseling, or any others – play out every day, and find the ways to land on that line as often as possible.  Success in these fields requires it.  Period.

And it is freaking draining.  I’m not full-time in ministry at the moment, but even in the small bits of ministry that do come my way, I’m always torn.  Combine that with being on a media crew that is essentially a polar opposite of my church family and wanting to be the best “me” I can be to feed the souls in both groups the best that I can because I am a Christian and that is my interpretation of the call of the gospel (Feeding All Souls In Love) and it is exhausting because I don’t know when I am the real me.  After 27 years, 4 months, and 25 days, I don’t really know who I am.

… … …

Actually, yes I do.  I know exactly who I am.  I’m a God-worshiping beer drinker who cooks a bit too much, swears a bit too much, and loves as much as he can.  That’s who I am.  I think the reason I have to ask myself “Who am I?” constantly is because I don’t let myself be myself.  Sometimes I can’t be myself – cracking opening a beer at the pulpit is unacceptable, I think – and sometimes I don’t think I should be myself but this short, overweight, beer-loving preacher who curses and loves and gets distracted so easily (from the start of this sentence to now I’ve followed 6 new blogs….) and worships Jesus as much as he can and maybe relies on the Holy Spirit a bit too much on Sundays and tries really hard to be a good husband but falls short sometimes and really just wants to be real and vulnerable.

And that conflicts with who I have to be to feed some souls, and matches right up with other souls I feed.  And I want to feed them all.

So to respond to Ben Huberman’s prompt about our various “Me’s” colliding, I simply say, “Got 27 years, 4 months, and 25 days?  Because my life is defined by various versions of myself colliding with the real me.”

Who am I?  I am “Jesus, Beer, and My Tiny Kitchen” in human form; this blog is me in writing form.  Only person me messes up a whole lot more in the kitchen and written me cures a whole lot less.

To honesty, vulnerability, and beer,

– Robby