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DM _ Sexual Identity - MAIN

If you are looking for the message I preached on Sunday, August 23, 2015 regarding sexual identity, morality, and marriage, I realize it might be a little hard to find. My sermons can be found under the TEACHING tab at the top of this page, but they do not automatically post to my homepage.

To find this message, CLICK HERE. Thanks for checking in.

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It was almost 20 years ago now. We sat around a stack of pizza boxes, yellow legal pads and number number two pencils in hand, and we agonized over language that would clarify our purpose and our values as a Worship Ministry team at a church in Bloomington, MN. It was painful.

But it was fruitful. This was the brotherhood. My team of Levites. Worship leaders and lead worshipers and partners and my best friends. We wrangled and argued and refined and prayed and read the Bible and fought to find the words that would guide us in worship ministry over the next decade and a half. Further, it would come to be the guiding document for the worship ministry in a new church plant that I would join a few years later. We have co-opted these words and leaned on them as a guiding path for ministry in several capacities since, including the worship and arts ministry of the church I am serving as Pastor as of this year, St. Olaf Lutheran Church in Montgomery, IL. Though I am a lead Pastor now, the first 20 years of my ministry life were spent leading worship ministry teams.

When I speak to churches about worship ministry, I strongly advocate entering into the process of developing and clarifying a team-wide biblical ministry purpose, and values that reflect the overall mission and values of your congregation. Clarifying words give the ministry team a TARGET. It’s hard to measure whether or not your ministry is accomplishing it’s goal if the ministry has no clear idea what that goal is. But the process of writing our purposes, mission statements, values… ouch. You sweat blood. So I’m not talking about banging this out in a couple hours over some delicious Papa John’s on a Friday night. Nope. It will probably take you months. And lots of frustration. And a few blessed light-bulb moments. And prayer.

But then, when you get to the end of the process, and the whole Team is on board and committed… the synergy and the unity and the depth of fellowship in that ministry is hard to put into words.

For more than 15 years I haven’t changed a word from what we started with in those pizza box sessions in Bloomington. Not a single word. Because I BELIEVED in them, and I believed God had granted us clarity, blessing, and direction. I still believe that.

However, purpose statements are only valuable to the degree that they point you to a biblical target that reflects the heart of God and is rooted in the truth. Purpose statements ought to be developed CAREFULLY, and PRAYERFULLY, so that they coalesce a ministry Team around a clear and truly God-honoring rallying cry. To the degree they reflect scripture, they will be helpful. To the degree that they misdirect away from scripture, they will be harmful.

So here we are. More than 15 years later. And we needed to make a change.

I guess this was born out of a season of looking at our theological positions under a microscope. Having just launched a new website for St. Olaf Lutheran Church, our deacons and I have been dissecting and finessing the wording on our site in the “who we are” and “what we believe” sections. As I went to post our Worship and Arts Ministry Purpose and Values, I realized something that flew under the radar for all these years.

Our original purpose for worship ministry looked like this:

“We exist to model and facilitate deeply significant worship expressions that result in transformed lives.”

My focal points in this statement have always been on (1) both modeling AND facilitating worship, and (2) transformed lives. In other words, we don’t just lead worship, we model it. And secondly, we expect God the transformer to change people into His image if His Spirit is moving as we worship.

But we need clarity when we express theological positions. And here’s the rub… I realized that in these words we had actually taken on responsibility here as a Team that we were never intended to carry. Because worship is always RESPONSE to God the initiator, “worship expressions” don’t RESULT in transformed lives at all. That is assigning power to the act of worship that it does not and can not hold.

So, lo these 15+ years hence, I have made a change. Our purpose statement now reads, “We exist to model and facilitate deeply significant worship expressions that REFLECT transformed lives.”

BOOM. The power of the GOSPEL changes people. Worship is the response.

NOTE: Feel free to read or download our full page “Worship and Arts Ministry Purpose, Vision, and Values” here.

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“haven’t changed a word for 15 years… until now” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at http://www.jskogerboe.com/2015/03/27/havent-changed-a-word-in-15-years/ ‎.

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

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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.

 

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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.

This July, 1,800+ souls gathered together for a week of worship and Bible study and relational bonding at the YMCA of the Rockies camp up in the mountains of Estes Park, CO.  This was FLY 2013, the Association of Free Lutheran Congregations Youth Convention, held every two years. My wife Amy and I were grateful to be asked to speak this year on July 4, for the Thursday evening services. As I spoke to the men and boys in the Longhouse, Amy had an opportunity to speak to the girls in the Assembly Hall just up the hill.  The theme of the convention was “Broken,” taken from Isaiah 53. The text we focused on for the evening was Isaiah 53:10-12.

Here is Amy’s session:

 

beautifully broken from Joshua Skogerboe on Vimeo.

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beautifully broken :: amy skogerboe :: women’s night at fly 2013 by Amy Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Monseths

Pastor Monseth has been the dean of our AFLC Seminary for 42 years. He was my Systematic Theology professor and my good friend. He was also the father of some of the best friends I have ever had. When you love much, you grieve hard, and so his absence is felt deeply by our families and by our whole church Association. Fran Monseth died on Good Friday. Late at night, following an emotionally tangled Easter, my brother-in-law, Adam, sent the following tweet:

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There it is. GOSPEL! HOPE! The exact minute we concede our loved ones are gone, the power of hope floods in.

For those of us who loved Fran so deeply, we grieve his passing with many tears. I hate it. He was like a second (or third) dad to me, he loved my wife and kiddos like family. And he let us know. His absence will be felt for the rest of our lives. My grief spills down my face, and it has for a week, and it shows no signs of stopping. But then, in every conversation, and in every story… Jesus. The Gospel. HOPE.

I’m straining at the keyboard to shout it to you. Whether you go to church or not. I feel this one to my toes. Jesus makes all the difference. On one side stands anger/confusion/hopelessness/defeat/despair/eventual cynicism and apathy. On the other stands HOPE. With hope comes forgiveness, freedom, purpose, and much joy. God is in the business of proclaiming HOPE in the darkest of places, in the darkest of moments, to the darkest of hearts. I want to be a part of His great story. Like Fran.

Those who ever had a chance to meet Pastor Monseth – or had the great privilege of knowing him well – will speak with conviction that he reflected the character of his greatest love. I’ve heard people say that we become like what we love most. It is natural to worship what we love most. It is natural for a student to become like their teacher. For boys to grow up to be like the dads they love. In this regard Fran reflected the love and character and values of his father, Pastor Fritjof Monseth. Even more, we saw JESUS in him.

I’m struggling to shake off the “churchy” language here – I don’t want my words to blend into the evangelical beige. To say we saw JESUS in Fran has some TEETH. It means real-world lives were changed, because Fran lived DIFFERENTLY than most people – even churchy people. Fran’s faith was bold. He was resolute. He loved God fiercely, and his family joyfully, and his friends deeply. He was full of the truth. He had huge swaths of God’s Word memorized, and his conversations were saturated with scripture. When I had the pressures of life weighing me down, I would talk to Fran, and he cared about it. He cared about our stuff like it was HIS stuff.  He would pray with me, asking God to bless and protect and provide for us, with every understanding that his prayers would be answered, because His God is my God. And our God is trustworthy. Without Jesus, I would carry the weight of the world on my shoulders. With Jesus, I can rest. Fran reminded me of that a hundred times.

I was talking to one of the maintenance men on the Seminary campus where I live (and where Fran worked everyday as Professor of Systematic Theology and Seminary Dean), and we noted the consistency with which Fran loved people. I mean ALL people. Recognize the rarity in this. We don’t live like this, even if we believe we should… Or maybe I should just speak for me. I don’t love people the same – with Jesus’ kind of love – regardless of their stature or intellect or smell. I know I shouldn’t, but I tend to categorize people. Lord forgive me.

Fran looked everybody in the eye. His countenance and his words communicated “You matter to me and you matter to God.” This was true for the academicians he could call peers, and it was true for the everyday Joes, and even for the Seminary students who sometimes thought we knew better. Notably, it was just as true for the awkward and the offensive and the marginal people. Fran supernaturally loved people. He was like Jesus.

Do you get this? How remarkable and important this is? Pastor Monseth breathed out Jesus to everybody he had contact with. He affirmed the learned and the weirdos. I want to be that kind of man.

But then he died. He just died. It was a Friday morning. And then by lunch time, no heartbeat.

What?

Grief. Loss. Pain. An earthquake. Change. Heartache. Disbelief. Sadness. Clinging, desperate, trembling hugs. Kleenex. Realization. Emptiness.

And then… Hope.

What is this?

This is a spark that grows. This is the unique thing that Jesus-lovers experience that the rest of the world doesn’t believe truly exists. This is HOPE: God’s PROVEN power on full display in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and it is the future of those who believe. Like Fran. Jesus promised us in Romans 6 that our sins were put to death with Him on the cross, and in His resurrection WE who believe are (and will be) resurrected to new life in Him.

As Fran’s death approached he was preparing us – those who love him much – in the HOPE that we would need in days like today, the day of his funeral.

On the Sunday before Easter, Palm Sunday, the Monseth family gathered at the family farm in Rogers, MN, to celebrate Easter together. Grandpa Monseth spoke that afternoon to the family about the hope of resurrection. He talked about the death of his dad, Fritjof, and how he grieved it. “But,” he said, “we do not grieve as those who have no hope.”  Quoting 1 Thessalonians 4:13, he prepared his family. “When I go to heaven on Friday, I know you will be sad. But the sovereign God loves us. Remember the HOPE we have in Jesus. We’ll spend FOREVER together with Him. You’ll see.” Jesus makes all the difference.

He was preparing us, too, his students at AFLTS. In his last lecture of his 42 year career teaching at our Seminary, Dr. Monseth spoke to us about death and the nature of our transition to heaven as disciples of Jesus. In a profoundly fitting turn, Pastor Monseth ended class on Wednesday, March 27, with Job 19:25-27, which is likely the oldest statement in the Bible about the hope of the resurrection.

“For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”

This matters! HOPE! No other religion offers HOPE like the assurance of freedom and life that Jesus gives us.  His promises are so clear.  I agree with the Apostle Paul, who wrote about this hope in Romans 1:16.

“I have complete confidence in the gospel; it is God’s power to save all who believe…”

ALL who believe. Jesus made all the difference to Fran. This confidence in the Gospel fueled his passion to share it. With everyone. With Doctors and weirdos.  Because the smartest and the slowest, the kindest and the cruelest, the polished and the ragamuffins ALL fall short of God’s perfect standard. Every soul needs Jesus. Fran lived the Gospel message – the unshakable HOPE that is stronger than death: JESUS died and rose again to forgive everyone. Salvation and freedom and purpose and meaning and HOPE are universally available to EVERYONE who believes.

So today we gather in the chapel on the beloved campus where Dr. Monseth poured out his Jesus to thousands of students. Not just religious ideology. He gave us Jesus. Through the Spirit and the Word, Pastor Monseth helped usher in the Kingdom of God among us. And I know we will never be able to accommodate all the traffic. And I know the spaces of this campus will be filled to overflowing. But I know this is right, to be right here together to mourn as a family. And I think of the last time we gathered with Pastor Monseth as a family in this chapel, not too many days ago.

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We gathered here for Ben and Dre’s new daughter – Fran’s latest grandchild. It was her baptism day. I had the great privilege of holding this new 8 pound life, and welcoming her into the family of God with the water and the Word. Everybody huddled around, and the kids had the best seats, right up in front. Blessings were read over her. And Grandpa Fran’s rich voice, full of love and conviction, rang out his blessing, calling upon Jesus to keep her and strengthen her and use her life for His glory. And in this little girl I see his legacy.  Like I do in the family picture above.

Only when I look at these pictures, I see thousands of other souls leaning into the frame. Lives changed forever because Fran lived with the courage and conviction to tell them how they mattered to God, and how their sick souls and selfish hearts needed Jesus. And more than that… how Jesus was available to them. Today. Right now. How many souls will be with Fran in heaven because he loved the somebodies and the nobodies with equal compassion? I imagine a stadium full. Only they’re not cheering for Fran. They’re shouting their praise to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world – Fran’s first love. The One he sees today face to face.

I think again of this little girl that Fran loved so dearly. I see her daddy hold her close with such joy and protective, crazy love. And I understand again the metaphor that God has given us. “I love you like that. I hold you close like that. I am your father, and you are my adopted sons and daughters whom I chose to be my own. When you love much, you will grieve hard, and so I will comfort you today.”

Jesus makes all the difference. Without Him we wail into the wind. But Fran knew Jesus. Peace. Purpose. Forgiveness. Freedom. Wholeness. Resurrection. LIFE.

I marvel at the grace of God. I think of Fran’s new granddaughter, and I see how His hand of blessing was surely upon Ben and Dre as they continued his family line. I imagine her growing in her faith, with the tender heart for Jesus that we see in her dad, and the beautiful boldness of her momma, furthering the exponential reach of her Grandpa’s Gospel legacy.

And I think what a wonder it is that in this season of deep grief, in the midst of deep faith, they named her HOPE.

 …

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“Remembering Fran Monseth :: the unique hope of the gospel” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

This fall I began a long walk through a series of posts called “Pursue Joy.”  You can read the introductory post (“God wants to wreck your life”) here.  It’s what I believe about life and theology – in a nutshell.  So far I’ve hit three out of five pillar ideas in past posts.

First this.  God is wildly, passionately, zealously, jealously committed to the glory of His own name.  This stands in contrast to the misconception we have growing up in church believing that God’s love and Jesus’ ministry is focused primarily on US.

And then this.  Far from being a hyperbolic cosmic ego trip, this truth is the most wildly loving foundation possible for our relationship with Him.

And that leads to this.  BECAUSE God is so passionately God-focused, He has made us and redeems us in order that we might find our ultimate fulfillment in the the praise of His glory, at all times, right now and thoughout eternity.

Good times.  You are now up to speed.

So God is GOD-focused rather than US focused.  And we were created by God to be GOD-focused rather than US-focused.  And whether you realize it or not at first blush, this is very very VERY good news for schleps like you and me.  Schleps with a ME-focused nature.  Wildly better news, in fact, that our little minds can absorb.  Today I want to answer the question… “WHY?”

Point #4 in my “pursue joy” framework is this:  This is the greatest possible news.  This is pure gospel.  That we have been created to and saved not unto begrudging servitude, but unto the passionate pursuit of JOY.  Not mere pleasure, or happiness which is fleeting, but a pursuit of soul-thrilling JOY that deepens and expands forever into the infinite glory of God.

I talk about JOY a lot.  One of the most common press-backs I get from brothers in Christ is what I call the “take up your cross” argument.  Their concern is that I am so focused on the “good stuff” (i.e. the JOY stuff) that I am missing the forest for the tree.  The cross, in particular.  After all wasn’t Jesus a “suffering servant” (ala Isaiah), well acquainted with grief?  If we are called to emmulate His life and ministry, isn’t our faith going to be forged in the furnace of suffering?

Yes, it is.

Jesus said we would suffer.  We will grieve.  We may live with little.  We may be called to give up the little we have.  We may give up home, comfort, security, and family for the sake of the Gospel. We may die.

But even Jesus endured the cross “for the joy set before Him.” (Hebrews 12:2) And to think that lack of comfort or earthly security or even loss of our loved ones equates to lack of JOY is to misunderstand JOY.  Joy is bedrock.  It is God-given.  It grows in tandem with faith, as God proves His love again and again.  The path to deep and lasting JOY is often THROUGH the valley of suffering and hardship and uncertainty and sacrifice.

So don’t confuse JOY with comfort or pleasure or even happiness.  It is deeper.  It is stronger.  It is better.  It is of greater value.

We should be eager to give up comfort, pleasure, security… if the path of obedience always leads us to deeper joy.  And it does.  It always does.

John Piper, whom I love, clarified this even more for me today.  Watch this…

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“piper, obedience, suffering, and the hard path to deeper joy :: pursue joy :: part 5” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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It was like a bomb hit my office.  Both scary and exhilarating.

And I know that those of you who visited my office 15 years ago at Emmaus Lutheran Church are certain I’m talking about my decorating style, what with my, um… free-form approach to filing sheet music and whatnot. But that’s not it at all.

A hundred loose threads of theological string running through my brain were suddenly were drawn tight, snapping into place to form a perfect, beautiful knot.  Right then, with trembling hands and tears running down my face, I knew what I was for.

I called Amy.  Which is the thing you do when your whole life has suddenly changed direction.  You call your spouse.

Before I wander farther into the woods here, let’s step back and take a clear look again at the trees.  I’m in the midst of a series of posts here about the foundation of Biblical beliefs that fuel my life and undergird my calling as a Pastor and proclaimer of the Gospel, and I’m categorizing all of them under the rubric “PURSUE JOY.”  So far I have posted an introductory column (read it here), and have expanded upon the first two of five Biblical propositions in the series.  Click on either one below to read those posts:

(1)  God is wildly, passionately, zealously, jealously committed to the glory of His own name.

(2)  Far from being a hyperbolic cosmic ego trip, this truth is the most wildly loving foundation possible for our relationship with Him.

So far I’ve attempted to make a clear Biblical case for the fact that God’s highest purpose and most profound desire is for the ever-increasing praise of His glory.  The Bible is FULL of this truth from cover to cover, but many Christians have mistakenly fallen into the misconception that what matters most to God is US.  That Jesus came to earth primarily to rescue US, because of His profound love for US and His desire to bless US.  While it is true that we are deeply loved and exceptionally valuable in His eyes, the Bible makes it clear that we have been called as a people of God for His glory (Isaiah 43:6-7) and that Jesus ULTIMATELY went to the cross not simply for our sake, but for the glory of His Father and His name (see Jesus’ prayer in John 17:1, for example, and what John has to say about our forgiveness in 1 John 2:12).

Then I explain from a Biblical platform why this is in no way some kind of grandiose ego-trip.  Instead the God-centeredness of God stands as the most extravagantly loving basis possible for our relationship with God.  As God is our heavenly Father, he seeks to give us the best possible gift (see our relationship to God clarified in Romans 8:14-17, and God’s Father heart to us in Matthew 7:11).  The best, highest, most valuable gift to us in all of the universe and beyond the bounds of time is GOD HIMSELF.  And so, in His supreme love, He gives us Himself to marvel at and adore for eternity – the highest and best for us is to not focus on us at all, but to fix our attention and lavish our affection on the ONE object of supreme and unfailing worth.  That is why Our deepest satisfaction comes in the fulfillment of our God-wired need to WORSHIP, and when the object of our worship is God Himself, we are satisfied, and God is glorified, and the union of the two is a consummation of such beautiful genius that there are not words for it.  That is why in my last post I wrote, “In praising that which is MOST praiseworthy are we most DEEPLY satisfied, and the genius of this design is that the expressing of this praise brings us the most soul-satisfying PLEASURE in the universe.  In fact, the joy that both awakens and satisfies our most primal need in life finds its voice in our fervent worship of the ONE who is worthy of it.”

To pursue JOY is to WORSHIP God.

The irony is that most people pursue happiness while running away from God.  Colder… colder…

Now, back into the woods…

I was there in my messy office at Emmaus, stuck somewhere between the staff meeting that had just wrapped up in Mavis’ office and getting to work on the upcoming Sunday service plans.  I had been hired as a Worship Pastor, of sorts, albeit under the title of “Minister of Celebration.”  So I was the Music and Arts guy on campus, with traditional and contemporary services to plan, choirs to direct, Children’s Musicals to arrange the music for, and leadership in the Worship Services.  There was a lot of “stuff” to do related to my music degree – the one I was finishing up at Northwestern College with a career track in kind that would move through High School Choir directorship and on to College-level (or higher) conducting in a choral program some day.

But the “stuff” was not the “heart” of my job.  I had come into this leadership role not too far outside of high-school.  I had two years of Bible School under my belt, sure, and I had just a touch of worship leading experience as a drummer for the AFLC Youth FLY Convention in 1993 and again in 1995, but suddenly I was being paid to LEAD PEOPLE in worship, and I figured I better get a handle on what that meant… I mean beyond the laundry list of things that bugged me about other worship leaders.

In studying what it meant to lead worship, I learned that worship is an act of the heart… and my job was not to create an experience for people in the pews every week.  It was to create “worshippers.”  My job at its heart was literally to help the people of our congregation love God more deeply, more fervently, more honestly.  Music and the arts were great tools for inspiring God thoughts, but they were simply a means to a greater end.  The end was WORSHIP.  Worship was the goal.

With my mind and heart full, on a day when I was particularly grateful that God had allowed me, for this season of my life, to enjoy such a rich job description, I pulled the Missions magazine out of my staff mailbox, along with a reminder of an upcoming deadline for my church newsletter article and a copy of the council report from last week’s meeting.  Missions.  Ugh.

If ever there was a reminder of my mediocrity as a follower of Jesus, the monthly “Missions” magazine that got dropped into my box was it.  There they were – the REAL Christians – out there among the bush people and the teeming hordes in India and the orphans left to fend for themselves on the street in Brazil.  There they were.  They stood as an example of my weakness and selfishness.

I did not want to be a missionary.  I knew that this meant I was not a fully mature Christian.  Not a REAL disciple of Jesus.  Sure, my heart beat fast when I would think of ways for our church to grow deeper in love with God.  I mean, I wanted to take the church by the collar and give ’em a good shake, and with a smile in my eyes, shout about how awesome our God is, and why He’s worth our abandoned, unreserved, unselfconscious adoration.  But I didn’t want to go to Ecuador.  Second class.  Second rate.  Second choice.  The missionaries… they were God’s first choice.  They were the truly selfless ones.

But this looked… interesting.  What is this?  The monthly Missions publication was focused on… worship.  Worship in the field.  Worship in evangelism.  Worship styles that incorporate other culture’s musical traditions.  Worship, worship, worship…

Despite the innate sense of guilt that I felt even holding this magazine in my hands, I turned the cover.  Within one minute, the bomb went off.  I read these words, and my world changed…

“Missions exists because WORSHIP doesn’t.”

Wait… (light-bulb flickering)   Wait… (flashing lights. epiphany.)  I… I think… (FUSE MEETS POWDER, WORLDVIEW ROCKED)

This is what I’m for.  This is what I’m for.  To help people everywhere understand that they have been created to worship, and they’ll never be deeply fully completely satisfied until they embrace the truth… we are created to be worshippers.  Tears.  My career path has changed.  I’m not in ministry part time as I prepare for a career in music performance.  I’m not in ministry part time at all.  This is what I’m for.

Missions exists because worship doesn’t.

“I will set a sign among them, and I will send some of those who survive to the nations… to the distant islands that have not heard of my fame or seen my gloryThey will proclaim my glory among the nations.” (Isaiah 66:19)

We aren’t merely in the business of selling fire insurance to people all over the globe.  We are in the business of helping every soul on the planet understand what they are for.  Because if people don’t know Jesus, how can they worship Him?  And if they can’t worship Him, how can they find true and lasting joy?  And most important of all, how will God receive the GLORY He is due through their life?  This is what the Church is FOR…

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.”  (1 Peter 2:9)

That was the day my life changed direction forever.  Flashes of light.  The scripture alive in me.  My course was set.  For the rest of my life, Lord, I want to spend the rest of my days helping people love you.  I can do that in suburban America, or rural America, or even a wildly different culture like Canada…  I want what you want – for you to receive ever increasing praise and honor.  I understand.  It is what we are ALL for in the first place.

That brings us out of the woods to look at our next tree in the “Pursue Joy” series.  These are the truths that my life is now built upon…

(3) BECAUSE God is so passionately God-focused, He has made us and redeems us in order that we might find our ultimate fulfillment in the praise of His glory, at all times, right now and throughout eternity.

Whether I am playing drums, or at the piano, or in the pulpit, I will always be a worship leader.  My pastoral ministry in caring for people and in counseling people will be a ministry of the GOSPEL… that more souls will be set free to worship.  My preaching will be full of the GOSPEL… that the house of God rings with His praise more and more until Christ returns.

This is what I’m for.  Praise Jesus.


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“the day i knew what i was for :: pursue joy :: part 4” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

through water and fire

November 1, 2011 — Leave a comment

October 30, 2011. Living Hope Church in St. Michael-Albertville, MN.  Sunday night service.  This message is taken from Isaiah 43:1-7. It’s a message to Christ followers who are going through extremely difficult circumstances… times the old testament writers would refer to in poetic, idiomatic language… “going through water and fire.” In these desperate times, Isaiah 43 brings us this encouragement:

Don’t be afraid, because God is with you!


VIDEO NOTES: The video here begins a few minutes into my message after I had talked about my dear friends Jeremy and Jenny Erickson. You can see their picture on the screen behind me as the video starts. Jeremy was in the hospital awaiting news of a bone marrow scan that would eventually reveal a pre-leukemia disorder, and Jenny had just received word that her dad had died in a car accident. That is going through water and fire. I had the Ericksons in my mind as I prepared and delivered this message.  Ongoing prayers for their family are deeply appreciated.

Also on this video, we decided to include some of our closing song. If you are interested in finding it for use in your own church, it is called “Covenant Song,” written by Aaron Senseman, copyright 2000 Stuntman Music (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)

We ended our service Sunday night in a prayer huddle around Pastor Bob’s son, Joshua Halvorson, who is a Marine being deployed to Afghanistan this week… through water and fire. We will keep Joshua in our prayers, too.



Creative Commons License
“through water and fire” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.