Archives For children

The primary difference between Moms and Dads, as far as I can tell, is the length of leash with which we are comfortable letting our kids run.  While 99% of the time Dads know that their children can run far afield with no more than a few near misses, the occasional potential debilitating accident, and a brush with death now and again, we can all say a collective “THANK GOD” for Moms during that other 1% of the time… when it really matters.

As the father of boys – five of them – my leash is even longer than the average guy.  Boys have gotta take an occasional ER run in order to experience the fullness that life has to offer.  No pain, no gain, right?  Boys don’t climb to the treetops because it just looks so safe up there.  Boys don’t launch their bikes and skateboards off ramps, steps, and railings because they shy away from risk.  Boys don’t try to light stuff on fire because they simply long for serenity.  No sir.  They are as addicted to adrenaline as they are to Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.  And somewhere in the heart of every Dad is that 12 year old daredevil explorer we used to be.  We understand.  Climb that tree, kid.  I’ll drive you to the hospital if you break an arm.

However, there are moments.  We Dads know that there is a threshold.  We know because we’ve had to cross it a thousand times ourselves.  These are the “big boy” moments along the road that lead to growing up.  We can see it in the eyes of our children, and we remember.  They are the times when we wish the incline wasn’t quite so steep and the roller coaster wasn’t quite so aggressive.  Sometimes the hard path is a necessary one.  Sometimes the hard path may not be entirely necessary – but good, nonetheless.  These are the times when we must look our boys in the eye, and with all the compassion we can muster, utter the words every child needs to hear once in awhile…

“Man up, Nancy.”

Sure, there are people out there with kids actually named Nancy.  I don’t think that makes it any less effective.

Real life example:  This past weekend I drove my 11 year old son Isaac to meet up with a youth group from our church on their way to a weekend retreat across the border in Wisconsin.  I had to drop him off at a suburban Applebee’s where the van would pick him up about 15 minutes after I left.  His bags were packed, the list was double checked, Bible securely stowed, sleeping bag and pillow in the back of the Jeep, and Ike was a bundle of energy.  I could tell that his adrenaline habit was being fed right now.  Heading off to a retreat away from the family, out of state, no older brother with him this time.  His first “on his own” outing with the youth group.  He was stoked.

But his eyes were sending mixed messages.  Flashes of trepidation between the smiles.  Traces of concern peeking out the corners of his eyes, betraying his “I can do this” adventurous gaze out the windshield.

“Are you nervous?”

Pause.  “Nah.  I’m excited.” Pause. “I mean… first time I’ve really done this.” Pause. “Seth’s not gonna be there…”  Pause.  “But it’ll be awesome.”  He said it like a declarative statement, and then his face looked at me like he had just asked a question.

I grabbed the bill of his baseball hat and jerked it around with a grin. “You’ll do great, Ike.  You’ll have a blast.”

That was it.

Sometimes the “man up, Nancy” moments – the big boy moments – don’t require many words.  I knew he’d be OK.  And this independent moment was both good and necessary.  He knew it was worth a few butterflies.  The best rides are, right?

Someday I won’t be dropping him off at Applebee’s and waving goodbye for the weekend.  Someday it will be a college dorm.  Then he’ll be the excited one, and the tears will be mine.  Amy will likely be giving ME a much needed “Man up, Nancy,” when that day comes.

The point here, after all, is that I am not primarily seeking to shield my boys from pain.  I have friends and family in the Marine Corps. who tell me “pain is just weakness leaving the body.”  My boys love it when I quote the Marines.

Pain avoidance is not our job, parents.  Character development is.  Maturity is the goal.  These objectives are long term and require stretching.  Sometimes, the hard path is the best one.

Isaac and I never talked all of this through.  But I knew that getting dropped off at Applebee’s with his pile of bags to wait by himself for the Youth Group van was a big boy moment for him.  And when he came home, among the hugs and high-fives, I was sure to look him in those just-a-little-bit-older eyes of his and tell him, “I’m proud of you.”

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“big boy moments :: why i tell my boys to man up, nancy” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Certain stories in our family have a way of finding new legs year after year at our family gatherings.  One such story has its roots in my parents’ small farm town upbringing in the upper northwestern corner of Minnesota, where the North Dakota plains have invaded the landscape, and families earn their bread in the  rich black soil of the Red River Valley.

My dad was in 3rd Grade.  The assignment was to write and share a poem about “your favorite sport.”  One of dad’s friends stepped forward and shared, with great aplomb, the following legendary verse:

When I was a little lad

I ran to meet my Dad

O’er the fields so wavy

Oh, how I love to eat gravy

There is a simple perfection in this poem.  The affectionate relationship between father and son.  The eagerness of the son to join the father as a prelude to feasting.   The tip of the hat to the waving wheat fields, ready for harvest… a sign of provision and plenty.  And then, in a glorious climactic moment, the hailing of gravy.  Nay, the very pleasure of ingesting said gravy.  Economy of words.  Perfect.

I’m going up north today to revel in my family.  And to eat gravy.  I love Thanksgiving.

Not just the holiday.  The act.  Not just the family meal.  The relationships.  Not just the gravy…

But gravy is a big deal.

“Gravy” is the extra goodness that makes life sing.  More than brownish meat sauce.  It is the extra. The “beyond enough.”  The abundance of blessing.  The richness of the meal.  We could subsist on dry turkey and boiled potatoes, green beans and dry bread.  But why?  God has blessed in abundance.  When we eat gravy, we celebrate the love God has for us.  We feast, and thank the Giver.  The gravy is the the savory saucy goodness that signifies the fat of life.  Pressed down, shaken together, running over…  In America, we all are blessed with abundance.  If you are at a computer reading this right now, thank God.  Thank God for the warm place.  Thank God for the computer.  Thank God for electricity, and the ability to reason.  Thank God that you can read.

We have so much to be thankful for there are not enough seconds in a lifetime to express it adequately.

I saw a quote the other day that rang my bell:  “Thanksgiving is a prerequisite to joy.”

Yes and AMEN.  This is one of my most important goals as a dad – to raise gratitude-filled sons.  Because I also want to raise JOY-filled sons.

I believe my boys were created by God to live their lives celebrating Him in joy. Not a “ho-hum, work-a-day, give me what I got coming to me” life.  LIFE TO THE FULL.  Enjoying freedom from sin. Living in obedience to God as a joyful worship response to the God who gave us life and breath and heartbeats and mozzarella cheese.  And gravy.

The next few days in Bemidji, we’ll be in the thick of God’s greatest gifts.  Family who love us.  Abundant food.  Faith in God at the heart of our conversations.  None of it is lost on me.  God is a good God.  He is GOOD.  In the midst of the best times of life, and in the hardest, He is good.

When I takes that first gravy-laden bite (and the third… and the forty fifth…), I’m going to be saying a prayer.  “Thank you, God, that You are so good to me, though I don’t deserve your favor.  Thank you for your ABUNDANCE.”

Oh, how I love to eat gravy.


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“eating gravy is an act of worship :: thanksgiving precedes joy” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

I always want to be a better dad.  When I finally achieve “best dad of all time” staus, I’ll still want to be a better dad.  Today’s post is meant to inspire us dads to be intentional in our dadliness.

My friend Carlos Whittaker (known in the Twittersphere as @loswhit, father of viral video star ‘lil los, and the uber-creative behind ragamuffinsoul.com) continues to be inspiring on so many levels.  But I gotta give him props for this one as a top five on the all-time greatest dad moves of the 21st Century.

I don’t have girls… I’ve got my own hockey team of boys, but no mascara, barrettes, no pink, no lip gloss.  However… if I were a dad of girls, I’d be all over this stuff.  Carlos’ daughter just turned 8.  As a Taylor Swift fan, she wanteded to host a Taylor Swift party.

But in the words of Carlos, “if you know the Whittakers, you know that did not mean Taylor Swift cups and plates from Walmart.”  No sir. They invited a pile of her friends over and produced a video, complete with make-up and hairstyling, lighting effects, plenty of dancing about and general frolicking in wee cowgirl boots.  Dads, whether your home is full of Barbies and ballet slippers or cluttered with baseball gear like our home is, we can all learn something from Carlos here…

Don’t wait for the moments.  Make the moments.  Amen.

If you want to drop Carlos a note about this, find his original post here and check out ragamuffinsoul.com often.  He will inspire your faith, fuel your creative energy, and encourage you.

May we dads be intentional in our parenting.  A little planning goes a LONG way, guys.  God bless you and of all our kiddos.

 

Sure I was a little overweight.  That’s my point.

That being said, AWANA shouldn’t have tried so hard to break me.  I was only 10.  I wasn’t cut out for this.

We did some cool stuff, for sure.  There was the day we broke the world’s record for the longest banana split, laid out in the church fellowship hall like a long snake made out of PVC pipe halves and aluminum foil.  Hundreds of gallons of ice cream.  A truck full of bananas.  Hershey’s syrup in gallon jugs. Whipped cream and cherries.  Good times.

I also remember the relay race where we were given straws, and told to run the full length of the gym to a 2 liter bottle of A&W Root Beer sitting at the other end.  We were supposed to drink it as fast as we could through the straw we had been given, and then sprint back to our sweaty, belching elementary school aged teammates at the other end.  Do you know what happens when you sprint 94 feet, slam a bottle of A&W in 14 seconds of frenzied frothy sucking, and then run BACK across those 94 feet?  Three things are a certainty… (1) You will have root beer in your sinuses.  It has to go somewhere.  This will make you sneeze, which will hose anyone in the vicinity with a sharp spray of carbonated snot.  (2)  You will belch.  Long, sonorous, resonant belches that will echo off the walls of said gymnasium with an echoey fortitude that should garner the respect of any 7th grade boy.  Unfortunately, you will be surrounded by 74 other elementary students of both genders whose own fortuituos uncontrolled belching will drown out the magnificence of your own.  Add to that the sound of all the 3rd and 4th grade girls who are crying because they have root beer in their sinuses, and you have a cacophony through which the most violent of belches has trouble being singled out.  (3) Bloating.  Enough said.

So that was awesome.  High fives all around to the dudes who thought up that relay race.  Good times.

But the bulk of my memories  from my days in AWANA are more sinister in nature.  I still break a cold sweat when I hear a coach’s whistle blow.  Sure, they sold it to us as a “game.”  Sure, it was supposed to be “fun.”  But it was genius in its calculated simplicity.  Profound in its energy-quelling capability.  Rendering us limp and compliant, it became the favorite “warm-up activity” for all of our bible coaches.  Perhaps you, too, have been subjected to its soul-crushing  efficiency?  Many of you former Puggles and Cubbies and Sparks know EXACTLY what I’m talking about…

The Circle. *ominous tones here*

Basically, four students are fitted with flags hanging from a belt around their waist.  They are squared off at a co-equal distance from one another at four points around a large circle on the floor.  There they wait.  Breathing heavily.  Dreading the sharp blast of the coach’s whistle that will signal the start of their Ordeal.  The running of the proverbial gauntlet.

A clock ticks. Somewhere overhead, the distant screech of a bird of prey.  Muscles quiver. A whistle pieces the silence. It has begun.

What follows is basically 12 minutes of sprinting.  The goal is simple… be the last guy with a flag still attached to your belt.  We set off at a dead run, counterclockwise, scrambling and striving to grab the flag of the poor victim in front of us.  Meanwhile, we are being chased from behind from the captain of the track team.  I mean, if there were 3rd and 4th grade track teams… that’s who is behind you.  This is not a game of wolves chasing geese.  Oh no.  This is a game of wolves chasing more wolves. Carnivorous, snarling, hungry wolves.  Wolves scraping and clawing at that little red flag hanging from your belt, like the last vestige of your dignity.  The physical manifestation of your athletic prowess.

I hated the circle.

We played this game for 45 minutes.  Set. Breathe. Whistle. RUN! Fail. Set. Breathe. Whistle. RUN! Fail. All roads leading to fail.

So this is coming to mind now as I start my Seminary year because I’ve been reminded again of a core, absolute, life-changing truth about the Gospel that I will give my life for.

Jesus comes to us.

Let’s make the AWANA Circle of Pain a picture of spiritual well-being.  It’s a giant circle, with all of your friends and family and preachers and teachers and youth group leaders and your brother who is agnostic.  They are all lined up around that circle ready to run – to prove their worth in the spiritual arena.  Except for your agnostic brother, of course.  He’s just siting there in the path – he’ll probably trip up a number of those who try to run by.  But everyone is there.  Breathing hard.  Clock ticking.  Waiting for Jesus to blow His whistle.  Ready to run to protect their flags – the true measure of our spiritual wellness in America.  The flag that shows everyone that we’re just as spiritual as the next guy.  We try just as hard as the guy in front of us.  At least we’re not like that guy behind us, struggling to catch up.  Everyone is getting tired, sure.  We’re exhausted.  But we can’t lose our flag.  We can’t show everyone our weakness.  Got to run a little harder.  Catch the guy ahead.  Try harder.  Strive.  More.

Hear this.  If you don’t know Jesus yet – really know Him – then don’t think this is what the Christian life is all about.  As if we all are measured against the morality norm of the church culture.  As if we have to run the race like we’re trying to beat the saints alongside of us.  As if its all about us doing this thing we have to do.

And if you DO know Jesus, you may need to remember this… it’s time to give up.  Get out of the circle.  The standard is not whether or not you maintain your flag anymore.  You have no flag.  Jesus took your flag with him to the cross.  In this race, you don’t compete against men.  Your standard is perfection.  The goal is unattainable perfect holiness.  You can’t win.  It’s too hard.  It’s actually impossible.

Jesus comes to us.

The measure of our worthiness has nothing – nothing – NOTHING to do with how fast we run the race.  We don’t need to try to catch up to the spiritual superstars running ahead.  We don’t need to fear the jaws snapping from behind.

Jesus brings rest.  Jesus brings life.  Jesus gives you an identity, a hope, a future.  Jesus ran the gauntlet in your place.  By His stripes – not your striving – you are healed.

AWANA leaders, hear me now.  You have my sincere thanks for the Bible lessons.  Thanks for the ice cream.  Thanks, too, for the uncontrollable belching and sinus headache.  But you did not break me.  You and your circle of shame.  A substitute has stepped forward to take my place.  I see him over there walking the circle – talking to everyone by name – collecting their flags.  The scramble is over.  I’m not running anymore, always struggling to maintain position, and never reaching the goal.  It’s over.

Thank God Jesus comes to us.

 
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“AWANA tried to kill me :: carnivorous wolves and the gospel” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

“Hustle! Hustle! Hustle! Hustle!”

I was 11.  I heard this word more than any other word during my Little League days under the summer sun in Bemidji, MN.  Coach Whitey Anderson could say HUSTLE more times in a minute than anyone I’ve ever known.  I loved baseball.  Still do.  In large part, thanks to Coach Whitey.

“Skogerboe, you’re a ball player, son.  You’re a ball player.  You can play this game right here.  Yessir.  Skogerboe’s a ball player.”

Coach Whitey was like encouragement on steroids for a young second baseman who otherwise wouldn’t have considered himself much of a ballplayer.  I was moderately athletic, but overshadowed by the up-and-coming superstars.  I could hold my own in the field and maintained a somewhat below average track record in the batting box, but I kept in the game year after year, growing better in my skill-set and deeper in love with the game.  Coach Whitey fueled me to keep getting better, to learn why “hustle” had more to do with a healthy competitive attitude than just physical “hurry-up,” and he helped build into me a deep love of baseball that has never gone away.

Now I have a 10-year-old out there under the lights.  I see his coach picking up the mantle from Coach Whitey for the next generation.  I see him FEEDING encouragement and high expectations to the young men under his charge.  And the boys are thriving.  When Isaac talks about baseball, his eyes flash.  Coach Haberlie is not just getting the bases covered, and he’s not just getting results…  he’s building baseball lovers.

I just got an email from Coach last night, asking me to encourage Isaac, that he was so proud to have Isaac on the Team, and he is consistent in saying, “He is made for this game.”  I hear echoes of Coach Whitey… “You’re a ball player, son.  Skogerboe’s a ball player.”

These guys are both great leaders, and I hold them both in high regard.

The consistent ingredient in great leadership isn’t enthusiasm.  It isn’t deeper, better, higher knowledge.  It isn’t the ability to control outcomes.

The consistent ingredient in great leadership is this:  INFLUENCE.

Coach Whitey literally changed my life.  My childhood years are full of great memories, and I was a ball player.  I believed it to my core.  And now I see Isaac out there making plays, wrecking the knees of his baseball pants, and it’s better than the Twins.  He’s hungry for baseball.  Isaac’s gone from casual to passionate.  THAT is INFLUENCE.  And Coach Haberlie has been clear from the beginning:  His goal is to help shape these boys into young men of character first, great athletes second.  He’s not only influencing the boys… he’s influencing their dads.  That’s great leadership.

All kinds of people read this blog.  Friends and family, Pastors, Ministry leaders, Worship leaders…  All kinds of people in all kinds of leadership roles.  Here’s where ball meets bat, rubber meets road, hammer meets nail on the head…  LEADERSHIP = INFLUENCE.

This has implications for two groups today.

First of all, if you don’t consider yourself a “leader,” you are WRONG.  Think about your circle of relationships.  Certainly among those relationships are a handful over whom you have some kind of influence.  If you have influence, you have leadership.  You may lead badly, of course, and influence those around you to make bad choices, to turn away from God or from wise counsel.  But make no mistake:  if you have influence, you are a leader.  Lead well.

Secondly, if you THINK you are a leader, or if you are a leader by position, this is a good measuring stick for you.  Are you herding a group, or are you leading?  Are you steering outcomes, or are you leading?  In other words, are you truly INFLUENCING the lives of those you lead?  If you are in a position of authority, take a cue from Coach Whitey and Coach Haberlie… don’t just steer.  LEAD.  Don’t just point people.  INFLUENCE people.  Stop, pray, and think about how you can not just get the job done, but how can your influence lead to changed lives.  If you are a leader, then LEAD WELL.

The consistent ingredient in great leadership is INFLUENCE.  If you don’t have influence, you’re not really leading.  And if you think you don’t have a role as a leader, invest in those you have influence over.

We only get one life.  Wield some influence and change some lives, because time is short.  And in the spirit of Coach Whitey… HUSTLE.


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“leadership focus :: if i build it will they come?” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

So we were having a… discussion. Do you have those?  All married people have them, I suppose.  You know, our marriage would be just about perfect if I wasn’t in it.  🙂  I thought for sure I was right this time. Just one time…

But no.  As it turns out, I wasn’t right this time. In fact, after I had said my piece, Amy quietly reminded me of a few of my idiosyncracies – my own personality quirks – that transcend rational thought.  It was one of these quirks that had started all of this in the first place.

This was one of those times.  She had, through no fault of her own, stumbled unwittingly into my irrational headspace.  And therin lay the impetus for the aforementioned discussion.  I had to concede, when faced with actual facts instead of my own irrational emotional personality quirks, that – doggone it – she had a point.

And no… I’m not going into the details.  Let your imagination run rampant.  I’ll never tell.

Suffice it to say, she was dead on about a few of my personality quirks.  I didn’t see myself as an unusually quirky person… but oh yes.  I let my quirk flag fly more often than I realize. And the glory of it is, people who love me roll with it, and love me anyway.  And that is a gift.

Today, my message is this…  Most likely you have your own set of irrational quirks.  Guaranteed, the people you love have their own, as well.  My advice:  instead of butting heads against those quirks, and as long as they are not causing the rest of the family undue stress, I’m encouraging you to roll with it.  Go ahead and enable those quirks.  Yep, I’m talking full-on quirktastic co-dependancy.

Because real, powerful, life-affirming love means “who you are… I love.” And there’s plenty of time for “who you are becoming… I love, too.”  But an open discussion of personal quirks within a home or among roommates or close friends seems  like good juju to me.  Get ’em out there in the open.  Respect the quirks, baby!

Example: My mom, God bless her, is a top-calliber cook/home-maker/guest-entertainer.  People love to come to her home for meals, conversation, and good coffee.  It was a great home to grow up in.  But the kitchen is MOM’s domain.  You do not mess with the kitchen.  I repeat: you DO NOT MESS with the kitchen.  Every detail matters.  Case in point, when we load the dishwasher, knives go point down, but all other silverware must go eating-end-up, so that as the water rinses off the utinsels it runs DOWN the handle, away from the eating end.  That, right there, is a grade-A quirk, in my book. But here’s the deal… this is Mom’s passion.  The kitchen is HER arena, and she uses it to love and serve people.  And she’s great at it.  And we love her for it.  So, you know how we express our thanks and love back to momma?

We put the knives pointy-side down and the other utensils eaty-side up.

I don’t know that it makes a lick of difference, but my Mom wants it that way, so…  good times.

So, in the spirit of transparency and personal confession (which is good for the soul, I’m told – and makes for more interesting reading), here is a short list of some of my identified quirks.  Again, these may not seem rational to you, but that’s not the point.  The point is, they seem not only rational but downright IMPORTANT to me… at the time. Of course, it is also therapeutic to be self-aware enough that I can identify when my personal quirk is taking over rationality in my inter-personal interactions.  Therefore, here’s a short list from the inner-mind of Joshua Skogerboe:

(1) When beginning to do laundry (which isn’t often – Amy has to shoulder this one most of the time), I must scour the house for every piece of dirty clothes.  Like the random sock that ends up under the boy’s bed.  The baseball shirt that got wet in the rain and then hung up in the closet when mom and dad weren’t looking.  The PJ’s that my seven-year-old took off while in bed and which now are stuffed under his covers instead of in his drawer or the dirty clothes basket.  Before I begin, I want to get EVERYTHING together so it can be properly sorted into piles before the process begins.  I know it’s borderline OCD.  I know.  And we have five rowdy boys who, unless herded with a cattle prod, tend to shed their clothes in a moving explosion of laundry, leaving a trail behind them.  So my quirk sometimes needs to take backseat to reason to keep that laundry train a’ movin’.

(2)  We must eat hot food. This increases exponentially (a) when I cook it, or (b) if I have cooked it upon the grill, or especially (c) if the meal involves eggs or toast.  This is peculiar to me in a frighteningly irrational way when it comes to eggs and toast.  I would prefer the toast to jump hot out of the toaster into my mouth before it cools in any way.  This way I can savor the toasty crunch of the golden brown outer shell and still enjoy the soft core…  Mmmmm, toast.  But let’s say I put bread into the toaster and get sidetracked with another task, allowing the bread to pop up and sit in said toaster for more than 14 seconds.  No good.  Bad juju. The toast must be thrown out.  I know.  Starving kids in China.  Consumerism run amok.  I’m evil and wasteful and bad.  But dude… you GOTTA eat fresh toast.  And that is all.

(3) When the family is going to watch a movie, there must be no extraneous shuffling about or donning of jammies or last minute drinks of juice while the previews run.  No how. The trailers are sacred nuggets of extra enjoyment BEFORE the actual movie gets started, and I’m not about to concede this moment of extra goodness.  Now you kids SIT DOWN and CLOSE YOUR YAPPING MAWS and I mean NOW!  We’re going to have some FUN around here, or ELSE!  Keep on talkin’… that’s it.  I don’t care if you have to pee.  WE ARE HAVING FUN RIGHT NOW or, so help me,  I’m going to send you to your room for the week with nothing but gruel and  cold toast!  …wait. Did I say that out loud?  Sorry.  Quirk alert.

Ahhh.  I feel better. Not so much for my confession of irrationality but for the fact that many of you now, surely, are nodding your heads in silent approval.  Darn right you get every piece of laundry. No doubt eggs and toast must be consumed within seconds of leaving their implement of cookery.  Doggone straight the DVD trailers on family movie night are sacred and must be enjoyed silently or else.  Can I get an AMEN?!

OK, your turn… confession is good for you.  Besides, we want to laugh at you.  Or WITH you, I mean.  What are YOUR quirks?


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“let your quirk flag fly :: of trousers, toast, and trailers” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Yesterday I posted six sermon prep tips :: how i get ready to preach– a three minute drill on what I think through as I’m getting prepped for a message.  I stuck to the “from the hip” format yesterday.  It was my three minute answer to a Bible School student asking for pointers as he prepared his first sermon.

Today I want to follow my list up with an important seventh step (which, to be honest, should probably be #4). Let’s call it, “What’s your problem?”

Here’s what I mean.  I walk a tightrope when I think about preaching. As a Seminary student I haven’t yet been in the position where I have to chart out a majority of the the preaching a schedule for a church over the course of a year.  I have given several messages over my last sixteen years in ministry, but as a Worship and Executive Pastor, my teaching came as individual messages, or once in awhile in a series of two, back to back.  Without the constraints of a preaching schedule, I have had the luxury of handpicking an issue or passage of scripture that was really resonating with me at that moment.  This gave me the opportunity to dig into the Word and let God speak deeply to my heart in an area I was wrestling with.  To use a common buzz word, this made the messages I was giving very relevant to me.

So what do I mean by walking a tightrope?

The joke in the Lutheran Seminary preaching classes I’ve been in this year is, “You can preach a topical message once a year… and then you go home and repent.”

And yet, TOPICAL preachers often choose to preach that way because they feel it makes their messages more RELEVANT to their congregation.  That’s not a bad desire.  The point of the joke is this:  As preachers of THE WORD, our job is to exposit (draw meaning out of) the Bible.  God’s Word has the power to change lives.  We err when we start with our own ideas, and then use random passages from scripture out of context as “proof texts” to solidify our idea.  The key phrase there being “OUR idea.”  Currently I am on staff at Living Hope Church, where the preaching tends to be more topical.  But I would contend that, done well, this form of preaching can be Spirit-filled and expository – illuminating truth from God that He has spoken about in a number of passages.

“Walking the tightrope” here means living in tension between Gospel-centric expository preaching, and relevant, topical expository preaching.  As long as you are using a truly exegetical hermeneutic (taking truth FROM the text instead of using the text to support pre-determined ideology), I think that BOTH styles of preaching are Biblical, powerful, and effective…  In fact, I would contend further that this is not an either/or discussion.  I think you can (and should!) often do BOTH at the SAME TIME.

But we need to unpack this idea of “relevance” a little further.  How many churches these days use “relevance” as a marketing buzz word?  It’s everywhere.  There is even a fascinating magazine targeting Christian 20 somethings called RELEVANT.  I’m a subscriber.  Not because I endorse everything in it, but because it is a great picture of how this generation of Christians thinks – about life, about God, about church.  To them, “relevance” is a high priority.  And often, “church as usual” feels like more of a religious hamster wheel than the forceful Kingdom-building, earth-changing, love-powered Body of Christ they want to be a part of.

To be honest, I understand that frustration.  Since high school, I have OFTEN said, “I don’t want to play church.”  NO WAY.  I want to BE the CHURCH, and as a preacher, I pray the Holy Spirit works in power through me, to save souls and to stir the congregation of saints on to real LOVE and life-changing GOOD WORKS.  But I don’t think that the desire for relevance comes from a lack of relevance in the Bible.  That could hardly be farther from the truth.

Instead, whether or not messages are structured topically or as exegetical studies of a certain passage, our job as preachers is not to “make the text relevant” to our listeners.  Instead, our job is to help them see HOW the text IS relevant for them.  Right now.  Today.

That leads me to me to my seventh (or fourth, if you insert it into my last post) tip for sermon prep… the one I’ve called, “What’s your problem?”

In his book Biblical Preaching, Pastor Haddon W. Robinson said, “Effective delivery begins with desires…”  If you want to preach in a way that makes the message you are speaking immediately relevant, you need to ask yourself, “So, what?”  In other words, “What desire in my listeners does this message address.”  In other words, “Why does this matter?”  In other words, “What are the consequences of these people NOT hearing this message?”  In other words, “What problem in the lives of these people does this message from  God seek to address?”

In other words, “What is your problem?”

Note that I’m not suggesting you start with a problem and then scramble to find texts to support your best answer.  Rather, I’m suggesting starting with a text, and asking “What problem is this text addressing?”  And you know what?  Jesus is going to be in the center of that tension.  The cross is going to be in the center of that solution.

As I’m prepping a message, and I want to make sure it comes across to people as a relevant, right-now message for them to hear and absorb and respond to today, I ask myself, “What’s your problem?”  And then I make sure to highlight that tension and give them a solution by message end.

To review then, here’s the updated sermon prep list, including this extra seventh bullet point that I felt required a bit more discussion.  Feel free to add to these (or challenge me if you think I’m off my rocker) in the comments below…

Sermon Preparation Tips

(1)  PRAY!  It’s God talking, not you.

(2)  Identify your target.  Believers? Not?

(3)  Figure out the BIG IDEA of the text (The main thing you think God is saying here in one sentence).

(4) Keep it relevant – ask “What’s your problem?” and then make sure you provide a solution from the text.

(5)  Make sure you are saying what the text says, not using it to prove your own ideas.

(6)  Think about the “KNOW, FEEL, and DO” before you write it out:

(7)  Make sure you include both LAW (our need for God) and GOSPEL (God’s solution in Jesus) in EVERY message.

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“what’s your problem? :: writing relevant sermons” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

I lie to my kids.  I do it for fun.  It’s cheap entertainment.

Tonight’s episode was a personal triumph.

Amy and Seth and I helped lead worship for a Living Hope Church retreat last night and all day today.  By the time I got home, I laid down for a 10 minute snooze that turned into a two hour plunge into REM state.  I was exhausted, and I needed the rest.  Amy and I agreed that tonight was one of those rare times when we were HUNGRY for real food and lacked ANY DESIRE whatsoever to cook.

So I loaded up the boys in the van to pick them up some tasty 99 cent chicken nuggets and sandwiches from Wendy’s (don’t judge me), and proceeded to pull out my cell phone to call the a local steakhouse to order a tasty rib-eye for Amy and myself (don’t judge me… you’ve done this, too… you know you have.  Or if you hadn’t thought of it before, you’re now doing a silent fist-pump of thanksgiving, and you will commit a similar act of culinary inequity soon.  You know you will.)

“Who ya calling dad?”

In a moment of brilliance, the idea simultaneously was birthed in my brain and came out my face in a smooth flow, with that perfect blend of assurance and non-chalance that is needed to convince a van load of rowdy boys that the bologna you are selling them is trustworthy.  In a flash, a new hi-tech food delivery enterprise was born.  Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you:  1-800-GET-BEEF.

Me:  “They’ve got this network set up across the country… They’re everywhere.  They guarantee a fresh, grilled-to-order steak, ready for pickup within three miles of your current location anywhere in the Continental United States – cooked and ready to go in 12 minutes.”

Boys:  (pause)  “Really?”

Me:  “Yup.”

Boys:  (longer pause)  “That’s AWESOME!”

Yes it is.  It is SO awesome.  Who doesn’t want a freshly grilled steak available at a moment’s notice?  Unless you’re vegan, this idea is pure grade-A awesome sauce with a side of extra tasty goodness.  Of course it is patently absurd, and logistically impossible, but let’s not let reality tamper with my sweet moment of victory…

Boys:  “Wait… Dad?  How do they know where to send it?”

Me:  “Uh… GPS.  They track your cell phone call and send your steak to the nearest drop point.  It’s pretty cool, really.”

Boys:  (pause)  “AWESOME!”

Dude.  They are buying this.  I’m a horrible father.  And yet…  I’m enjoying myself immensely.  No need to wrestle with those lingering pangs of conscience.  That would just bring me down, man.  Let me savor this sweet sweet tangled web of lies.

As I pulled into the  into the busy parking lot of a local supper club, the boys pause their ruckus in the back of the van to ask, “What are we doing here?”

Me:  “Oh… this is the local drop point for this area for 1-800-GET-BEEF.  They’re all over the place.  It should be ready by now.”

In amazement they watched me return to the van with a freshly grilled steak, Medium, baked potato, and side salad.  As the smell of the hot, savory rib-eye filled the van on the ride home, I got to enjoy my two eldest sons discussing ways to beat the system.  After all, if 1-800-GET-BEEF “guarantees” local delivery within 12 minutes, there must be some way to finagle some free steak…

“We should, like, go hiking in the mountains, and once we’re WAY up the trail, call 1-800-GET-BEEF.  Yeah.  There’s NO WAY they’ll make it to us in 12 minutes…

While I can’t argue that logic, I fail to see how this plan would actually work in the real world.  Are you going to hike cross country to pick up your steak at the nearest drop zone?  Three miles is a long trek through the brush on a mountainside, after all.  And wouldn’t it cost you more than the price of the steak itself to equip yourself at the local REI in backpacking gear?  They clearly haven’t thought this plan through.

As Amy and I sat at our table tonight, savoring a delicious meal which we did not cook, I smiled to myself with each bite.  Sure, I lie to my kids.  It’s just rare that they all fall for it in one fell swoop.  Or in this case, medium…

I’m not sure just when they’ll figure out that I’m full of beans.  In the long run, this probably won’t help my case in arguing for the reality of the Tooth Fairy,  but I refuse to back down.

In any case, tonight’s deception worked so well, I may just run with the theme.  This is America, after all.  Home of capitalism, the unfettered entrepreneurial spirit, and consumer-driven ingenuity. 

Surely there is a market for 1-800-MY-BACON?

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“i lie to children :: pride cometh before the beef” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

I’ve failed as a father.

Perhaps there’s hope.  He’s only seven.  So I figure I have 11 more years with him under my roof, where his very food and shelter may be leveraged in the shaping of his character.

Levi Kyle is our precocious, out-spoken, Type-A+, heart-on-his-sleeve, leader-in-training, seven-year-old tornado-on-wheels of a boy.  He says what he thinks.  All the time.  I love that kid so much.

Where little girls (from what I’m told) only ripen into ever-increasing layers of complexity and emotional nuance, we are the parents of BOYS.  There’s not so much nuanced about their snips and snails and puppy dog tails.  And Levi has been endowed with an extra measure of boy-ness from His creator.  What Levi thinks comes out his face in a rush.  We’re working on it.

One of the blessings of people with a Levi-like personality is the immediacy with which you know exactly what they are thinking.  Whether solicited or not, you will get their opinion on the matter.  Whatever is the matter in the moment.  So listening to Levi as he grows up is an open window to his character development.  It’s fascinating.  Equal parts thrilling, comedic, and on occasion… a little unnerving.

“Dad, I want a credit card.”

“No.”

“Why not?!”

“You’re seven.”

“SO?!”

“You have to be older.  They won’t give you a credit card.  It’s a big responsibility.”

“What’s the big deal?  You just give people your credit card, and they give you whatever you want. Easy.”

“Right. But then you have to pay for that stuff.”

“WHAT?!  It’s NOT FAIR.”

Not fair.  Nice.  I’m a failure.

I’ve written before about Levi before and one of the most important values we are trying to instill in our kids… GRATEFULNESS.  I firmly believe that beyond a dynamic relationship with God through Jesus Christ, the most powerful indicator of happiness through this one go-round we have on the planet is the degree to which we embrace and practice the value of gratefulness.  Or thanksgiving.  Or gratitude.  Call it what you will, but that right there is at the top of my list as Dad.  I want to raise sons who are deeply grateful – for their life and breath, for their freedom, for the forgiveness of sins and the inheritance in heaven which we don’t deserve, for their future spouses, and for every cookie and every cup of coffee and every soul with which we have the privilege of interacting.  To embrace life to the full (John 10:10) and to be joyful always, full of thanksgiving.  For EVERY good thing.  THAT is what it means to live truly deeply profoundly happy.  And I want that for my boys.

“Dad?”

“Yes Levi?”

“When you get your driver’s license , do they give you a free car?”

“No.  You have to buy it.”

“WHAT?!  Sheesh.”

I’m failing here.  See, the opposite of gratefulness isn’t indifference.  You might think that.  How many people do you know who walk around and breathe the air and take in the sunsets and drink their coffee and haul their kids to soccer practice without a shred of “thank you God for this moment”?  Honestly, how many times has that been ME?  How many times just today?

But that kind of non-acknowledgement isn’t the opposite of gratitude.  The opposite of thanksgiving is ENTITLEMENT.

He’s only seven.  I’m going to cut the kid a lot of slack.  For now.

But Levi, and the rest of us, need to constantly be reminded that every blessing is a gift.  And there is a Giver.  And the Giver pours out blessing like rain upon the redeemed, the searching, and the hostile.  Even more, he has given us energy and creativity and the freedom to EARN even more blessing – like that shiny new car Levi expects to be granted unto him with no real investment of time or sweat.

Well dude, I’ll give you some grace.  You’re only seven.  But we’ve gotta get a handle on this entitlement stuff.  From now on, you will understand the value of that PBJ you ate for lunch and the IKEA bunk bed in which you wrap up at night.  According to a June 18 US NEWS article, the cost of raising a child to age 18 is roughly $222,360.  If I’ve done the math correctly, in your seven short years you’ve already cost us $86,473.

Levi, I’ll go halvsies with you.

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“i’ve failed as a father :: why my seven year old will be paying rent from now on” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

This right here is funny.  That’s really all I need to say.  Enjoy