focus

July 31, 2014 — 2 Comments

Molecule

Focus. When I write I realize that I need to work hard to get my head in the right space. I need to cut out the distractions, slow my mind down, clear the clutter. And it takes a while. There are so many competing streams of thought running through my brain, and so many outside distractions vying for my attention, that it takes discipline for me to focus my writing. To quiet myself so that I can communicate clearly the ONE THING I want to say. My goal as a communicator is to be more like a laser beam, and less like a fog lamp. Focus.

This is the principle of “irreducible minimums.” It is the process of reducing something down to its most elemental level, so that it can’t be reduced any more without being fundamentally changed into something else. In Chemistry class, we learned about molecules, for example, the smallest identifiable unit into which a pure substance can be divided and still retain the composition and chemical properties of that substance. In my high school Composition class, Mrs. O. always challenged us to “use fewer words.” Get to the point. Cut to the chase. Irreducible minimums.

The prophet-poet King David gave us a moment of clarity like that in Psalm 27. For a moment, in the midst of declaring his faith in God to carry him through a season of intense hardship and danger, David pulls back the curtain to reveal the central most focused desire of his heart.

“ONE THING I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD, and to seek him in his temple.” (27:4)

That’s focus. “In all of my heart, God, you alone enthrall me. When I clear away the clutter, and boil down my desire to its purest essence, it is YOU that I want.” David says, “If I lose everything else, but have communion with my Lord, that is enough. My soul is satisfied in Him alone.”

Paul makes a similar declaration in Philippians 3:8. “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” Do you see? This is Paul’s ONE THING. Knowing Jesus. Relationship with God trumps everything else.

So I examine my heart. I ask, “What is my ONE THING?”

I encourage you to spend some quiet moments with this question, too. And I can help you. It may be too easy to give the expected answer here. I mean, for those of us who go to church regularly for worship, isn’t it expected of us that our answer would be, “well, JESUS, of course. My ONE THING must be JESUS”? That’s too easy. I’m not asking you to put your finger on what you think the right answer should be. I’m asking you to consider what is actually TRUE.

Pleasure is like a gauge that measures value. So maybe instead of trying to simply name your irreducible minimum – your most important, most deeply seated desire – it may be easier to reflect on what it is that brings you the deepest pleasure. What do you enjoy most? What floods you with delight? Now we’re getting at it. The heart of your heart. Meditate on this. Clear away the distractions, and pray for clarity. All of us have our own ONE THING. Focus. What is yours?

 

Be honest with yourself. And with God.

 

David and Paul understood something about God that transformed them, emboldened them, and gave focus to their whole life. By the grace of God, they came to understand in the heart of their heart the truth of Psalm 16:11, which David wrote: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

How much joy do you want? How about a bottomless well of it? That’s fullness of joy. And how long do you want it to last? 75 years? 85? How about forever?

I know my ONE THING. I know that I know that I know. I want fullness of joy in the presence of God forever. I want to KNOW Jesus more and more, because in Him alone will all of my other desires be swallowed and satisfied and overpowered.

So today, find a quiet place to get alone with your thoughts and to talk with God. Ask yourself what brings you the greatest happiness. What is the ONE THING that you can’t imagine being without, even if it costs you every other desire and dream cluttering up your heart space?

I submit to you that David and Paul had it right. Until being at peace and in love with Jesus becomes your irreducible minimum, you will always feel the nagging tug of dissatisfaction. But when He becomes your ONE THING, you will find joyful rest for every longing of your heart.

And it will never end.


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“focus” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

June 13, 2014, Grace Free Lutheran Church, Valley City, ND. For my ordination service I sang “Sovereign” by Chris Tomlin.

Sovereign in the mountain air
Sovereign on the ocean floor
With me in the calm
With me in the storm

Sovereign in my greatest joy
Sovereign in my deepest cry
With me in the dark
With me at the dawn

In your everlasting arms, all the pieces of my life
From beginning to the end, I will trust You
In Your never-failing love You work everything for good
God whatever comes my way, I will trust You
God whatever comes my way, I will trust You

All my hopes, all I need
Held in Your hands
All my life, all of me
Held in Your hands
All my fears, all my dreams
Held in Your hands

Skogerboes Announcement May 2014

I’ve never experienced this before, but I am thrilled to see the way God has moved, charting the course for us, making the path straight.

People of St. Olaf Lutheran Church, our best days are ahead! We can’t wait to join you, do life with you, and serve God with you in Illinois! It is a humbling and joyful thing to say YES to a call when we know God is making His will known. And now that we have met you, we are all the more excited to get to know you better. God bless you, and we look forward to seeing what God is going to do next!  It will be amazing to bring our herd of boys and trucks full of “stuff” and begin the process of being HOME.

Go Cubs!

 

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Jesus said… “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)

As I write this today I am thinking about three people I am very much looking forward to seeing again.

The first is my good friend and former Seminary professor, Pastor Fran Monseth. He was honestly a father figure in my life, and he loved me and all of our family like we were his own. Fran transferred residence from his earthly shell to the presence of the Lord one year ago today. One year. It’s still hard to believe I can’t call him for advice, can’t pray with him, can’t endure his dry jokes.

Second, I miss my friend Jeremy. He never really leaves my mind, to be honest. We worshipped together, made music together, discussed theology over eggs benedict, laughed and cried and prayed together through his cancer diagnosis and treatment, and through the bone marrow transplant that took his life. Jeremy knew my heart, and I knew his. Jeremy went home to Jesus in June of 2012. There are still days when the tears come, unexpected.

And third, I want to give my Grandma Arona a hug. Grandma went to heaven just this last October. I miss her cinnamon rolls with the peanut butter frosting, and her potato dumplings, and the way she would say “It’s probably not any good” after you had just taken thirds of whatever deliciousness she happened to be serving that evening. I miss hearing her vibrato, as she sang hymns to Jesus. After having lived the last several years of her life in a wheelchair following a stroke, Grandma walked into Jesus’ arms. She’s singing again, too.

We’re drawing near to EASTER now, and our eyes and thoughts are on Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Church is preparing to celebrate. But today, as I remember Pastor Monseth, and Jeremy, and Grandma, the reality and power of the HOPE of RESURRECTION shakes me again. Because Jesus rose FIRST, you see – the firstfruits, He is called – we who know Him as our own carry the assurance with us that death is not an end. Death has lost its sting. Now it is a relocation, a joyful transfer to freedom. And we will rise again.

That’s why I can’t intone the Apostle’s Creed every week in our worship services with my heart and brain disengaged. In fact, the joyful reality of the certain resurrection we look forward to can probably be seen splashed on my face as we agree together what we believe in… “The holy Christian Church, the communion of the saints, the resurrection of the body…”

Really since Jeremy left us, this resurrection we look forward to has become so much more real for many of his loved ones. His friends here below were and are unusually close to him and to each other. We assume he’s working out a housing arrangement with the Lord whereby our mansions are all on the same cul-de-sac. Since Jeremy’s departure, thoughts of resurrection are always swirling through my theology, and it affects my everyday reality. Like Paul, I hang my everything on the hope of resurrection.

Paul said that he had given up everything else in life in order that he might live in relationship with Jesus. And to what end? “That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:10-11)

For me, this is tangible. Not just theological speculation. Keeping my eyes on the reality of resurrection in Jesus is changing my tastes. Jesus is making my heart new, and refashioning my mind. He puts my mouth out of taste for the poison of sin, and reminds me of the sweetness of knowing Him. Finding my delight in Him leads to LIFE, and a complete and soul-satisfying joy that lasts forever. (Psalm 16:11) And communion with Him. And ongoing relationship with Fran, and Jeremy, and Grandma again.

The Church will celebrate Easter in a few short weeks. Don’t allow your family traditions and familiar ceremony to inoculate you to the wonder of this moment. The resurrection is for YOU. That should astound you. It astounds me. And it means that those loved ones in Jesus who have gone on before us are together now with the Lord, and they will rise again. Death is not final. It’s just a relocation, a renewal, a rebirthing process. Jesus said that everyone who lives and believes in Him shall never die.

Do you believe this?

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“the resurrection of the body” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

 

Westboro Baptist Church Case to be Heard by Supreme Court

According to his son, Timothy Phelps, the long-time senior pastor of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church died last night, Wednesday, March 19, 2014. Westboro Baptist has long been identified with the worst kind of hatred – that which is wrapped in self-righteousness in the name of God. To get a better grasp on the depth of Fred Phelps venomous life’s work, see the Southern Poverty Law Center’s bio page.

The ripples of his death announcement are stirring conversation. There is already talk of people picketing his funeral. Eye for an eye. Hate for hate.

Others are suggesting that we let it lie. Don’t respond. Don’t feed the monster. Westboro Baptist has long-thrived on the media-circus energy generated by its outrageous behavior and over-the-top messages, designed to fuel controversy and hopefully secure relevance in the national consciousness, albeit relevance being known as the most vocal and provocative of hateful bigots. So some are saying, “Stop talking about Fred Phelps. Let him drift into obscurity where he belongs.”

The Christian community is responding, too.

“Fred doesn’t represent me…”

Honestly, I think even most of those who are virulently anti-Christian recognize the gulf between the hateful message of Fred Phelps and the average Christian church-attender today. Sadly, because Westboro claims to speak for God, there are some who equate his rantings with the conservative (read “fundamentalist”) Christian right-wing. But let’s be honest… To the vast majority of the world, Fred Phelps and his family are really viewed as more of a cult than as any kind of legitimate representation of Jesus or His followers. This is a case that doesn’t need to be made.

But in a way, he does…

So how should we respond, Church? What do we say? Around the water coolers, at Starbucks, at home with our friends?

Humility.

I suggest we respond with great humility. Here are my take-aways:

(1) Resist the urge to add fuel to the fire. Many are going to revel in this. Voices from outside the church, and many from within. Many will take this opportunity to bash the most dis-likable of men with a sense of self-righteous indignation that is fueled by the unity of their coworkers and neighbors. “Good riddance,” many will say. But the Church has an opportunity here to show some Spirit-led restraint. This is another opportunity to be light in the dark. Self-righteousness is darkness. Pride is the root of every sin. We would do better to let the bandwagon roll on by.

(2) Resist the urge to cover sin with cliches and band-aids. I saw one suggestion that perhaps it would be appropriate to picket the Fred Phelps funeral after all, to make a point that love is stronger than hate. Except instead of responding in kind, carry signs that read “God loves you” or “God forgives you.” While I recognize that this is an attempt to bring a positive message to light, we must acknowledge the truth that it is ultimately up to the sovereign Holy One to judge. Fred Phelps has mishandled the very name (and reputation) of the Almighty. Judgement is His. Further, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7) Ultimately, we don’t know what went on in the heart of Fred Phelps in his final days and hours. God does. I understand the temptation to make loving proclamations here, to try to counter all the years of hatred spewed out in God’s name. But to me, they don’t smell right. We are called to speak the truth in love, not proclaim forgiveness to the unrepentant.Yet, maybe Fred came to know the grace of God in a real way in his last days. God alone knows the heart. We would do better to be quiet. God will judge.

(3) Recognize the degree to which we are Fred Phelps. All men are haters. All men are rebellious enemies of God. Ever since Adam, we’ve been corrupted by sin. In Fred, that corruption seemed to pour out like venom from a firehose. In some of us, it is more insidious. But sin corrupts, and we’re all going to die one day because of it, unless Jesus comes back first. The message of the cross is that Jesus’ took all that venom and drank it down on our behalf. Forgiveness is found in him only. To those who believe, He gives the right to become children of God. But the venom of sin still corrupts. So we in the Church, who look to Jesus for our freedom, we still sin – just like the rest of the world. We still carry that venom around in our old nature. The difference is, if we believe, we are forgiven. Sinners still. But forgiven. That should be a sobering, humbling reality, not a soap-box from which to look down upon the more visibly corrupted. Literally, but for the grace of God, there go I. We would do better to examine ourselves, and lean into the mercy of God again.

Today the world will begin a dialogue about the death of one of the most disliked, disrespected people in recent American history. The temptation to join the cacophony will be strong. Church, we would be wise to walk humbly, be quiet, and do some honest self assessment today.

 

Is there a better way for the people of God to respond?

 

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“fred phelps sr. dies :: how do we respond?’ by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

 

 

pastor-word-cloud

This is a very unique time of life. Nine weeks from now I will graduate from the Association Free Lutheran Theological Seminary. If God wills it, I will soon be serving a congregation as a pastor, but today we don’t know where. Nine weeks. These seasons in the in-between are formative. They stir deep thoughts, and honest prayers in us. I’m examining what kind of pastor I hope to be. How God has wired me to serve Him.

These are my top five pastor non-negotiables:

1. I will delight in God. My ONE THING.

No matter what, I must fufill this purpose. God made me to delight in Him, to find my joy and my peace in Him. To honor Him in all things. To seek refuge in Him. To lean into His strength. To claim sonship in Him through the blood of Jesus, shed for me. And to fear Him. And love Him. Whether or not I ever pastor a church, I will delight in God. David wrote about this in Psalm 27:4. His ONE THING was close communion with God, and he wanted it forever. If I don’t live in close communion with Him, I can’t pastor. Ministry is overflow. Ministry is love, and I can’t generate that by sheer willpower. I won’t fake it. So this is first.

2. I will be the husband and dad my family needs.

Amy and the boys need me to be a husband and a dad. I will honor them, lead them well, and protect our relationships above all others. With God’s help, I will live in the tension between the needs of ministry and the needs of family with peace and freedom and joy. If my family is a wreck, my heart will be, too. So this is second.

3. I will speak the truth in love.

Preaching and teaching the Word of God. All of it. That is the life-blood of the Church. The hard words that convict, and the jaw-dropping promise of mercy and forgiveness and FREEDOM found in Jesus alone. I believe the Bible is absolutely TRUE, and inspired by God, and it lives and speaks to hearts right now, today. It is the voice of God, and it saves souls. My primary ministry priority in any congregation will be speaking the truth of God’s Word in the depth of love that He has for all who hear it. And He is shaping me; I am loving this call to PREACH and teach now more than EVER. So this is third.

4. I will love people.

God loves people. When Jesus spoke about the most important commandments, he said LOVE GOD and LOVE PEOPLE. This is the boiled-down, nut-shell, laser-beam focal point of our life’s calling as followers of Jesus. So whether or not I am ever a pastor, God asks me (and equips me) to love people. Especially then, as a pastor. How awesome is this? My job is to LOVE people. And especially those who are hard to love. And those who need it most. I can’t believe I get to do this with my life. So this is fourth.

5. I will build relationships. For years I have said “Ministry is RELATIONSHIP.” Disciple-making means proclaiming the truth of the Gospel, so that those who believe it will enter into restored relationship with God through faith in Jesus. That’s first. But we are also called to be relationship-builders with people. Both within the local church (doing life together!) and within our communities, familes, circles of influence. Anywhere we bump into PEOPLE, we are relationship-builders. Because real relationship opens doors. It reflects the love of God, and it allows for the kind of honest conversations that lead to sharing our God-story. As a pastor, I will teach, lead, and model the high priority of intentional relationships. So this is fifth.

There are a thousand ways I am willing to be flexible as a pastor someday. Someday soon, we hope! But these five I go to the mat for. These five are priority. My first things.

Creative Commons License “first things :: my top five priorities as a pastor” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

microphone crowd strip

THIS POST IS AN ANNOUNCEMENT of changes to my blog and a new direction for the season ahead. Here’s the plan:

(1) SERMONS  –  I now will be posting all of my recent messages under the “Teaching” tab above. You can always find my latest audio and video teaching and preaching content from now on at < jskogerboe.com/sermons >

(2) WRITING  –  I miss it. I am ready to reengage my blog again, as time permits and as inspiration and the Spirit so move. Thank to my friends for the encouragement.

(3) BLOG LAYOUT  –  In order to de-clutter my written thoughts from my spoken ones, I am going to experiment here with keeping them somewhat separate from one another. Therefore, my preaching posts won’t show up on my homepage. Only my blog posts will be found there. Likewise, under the “Teaching” tab (or at jskogerboe.com/sermons) you will only find my stream of recent messages.

It is a work in progress. Take a look around, kick the tires. I love hearing from you friends. Let’s reconnect this community.

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the door

August 28, 2013 — 1 Comment

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August 25, 2013. Ruthfred Lutheran Church in Bethel Park, PA.  Luke 13:22-30

Jesus fields a question about what happens to people when they die. It’s a theology question. About other people. Jesus’ answer burns away the arm’s-length safety of the question and reframes it in a way we can’t ignore. Instead of answering “How many will go to heaven when they die?” Jesus requires each of us to ask, “Will I go to heaven when I die?”

Everybody dies. The door to heaven is narrow. We all live on in eternity, but not everyone will be in heaven with God, enjoying His favor forever. If you hope to make it into the Kingdom of God – through the narrow door – you must enter alone before God. We come one at a time.

What about you? Here is the GOOD NEWS. There is a Door. And it’s still open. Right now.

>> This message is found in Luke 13:22-30. You can read it online here.

 

Click on the tab below to stream the audio…

http://www.jskogerboe.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/08-25-13_JoshuaSkogerboe_TheDoor.mp3

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“the door” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

a generous king

August 15, 2013 — Leave a comment

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August 11, 2013. Ruthfred Lutheran Church in Bethel Park, PA.  Luke 12:22-34

We live under the self-delusion that we are in control. We shoulder the weight of our own protection, provision, status, wealth, health, and direction. Jesus is talking to his disciples about money, and priorities – and about their Father in heaven. “No,” he says, “you are not in control.” And we must realize… this is amazingly GOOD NEWS.

>> This message is found in Luke12:22-34. You can read it online here.

Click on the tab below to stream the audio…

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“a generous king” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

one thing

August 15, 2013 — Leave a comment

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July 21, 2013. Ruthfred Lutheran Church in Bethel Park, PA.  Luke 10:38-42

When you boil your goals and values and priorities down to the very core, and you strip away all the non-essentials, can you identify your ONE THING? Cut through the clutter and see what it is that you’re really living for.

>> Please follow along in Luke10:38-42. You can read it online here.

Click on the tab below to stream the audio…

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“one thing” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.