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

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