Archives For Christmas

This right here is fun.  And tech-savvy.  And musically righteous.

Here’s the thing…  iPads and iPhones (a nod to modern culture) and funny hats (entertainment) and secular music (a nod to modern culture) and a sense of humor (entertainment) are a comfortable part of the Sunday Morning experience at North Point Community Church.  By their methodology, it’s easy to see they are intentionally creating an entertaining venue…  and it’s fun

So…  the question of the day…  Is that bad?

Attractive to “seekers,” or according to Northpoint, “a church for the unchurched.”  And I really need to press the point here…  Is that bad?

What caught my attention as I viewed this funkalicious Christmas tech-fest on You Tube was the “like-dislike” count at the bottom of the viewing window.  Sure, over 3,000 have given their virtual thumbs-up.  But I was more interested in the 100+ who voiced their red-thumbed “dislike.”

Triple digits worth of “dislike.”  For musical awesome sauce via gadgetry.  How can this be??  And yet, I get it.  Because church is about reverence.  And worship.  And worship is about giving of ourselves in grateful devotion to God.  Church services are not for our entertainment – and the mixing of penitent adoration of the Almighty with “funny hats” is not only inappropriate… it’s vulgar.  Maybe even blasphemous.   Further still, we do a deeply dangerous disservice to “seekers” when we lure them into church for more of what the world has to offer, don’t we?  More production and slick camera angles and lighting and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.”  We’re missing our golden opportunity to share the deeply counter-cultural message of Jesus, humiliated on our behalf, and come to earth as an infant.  A breathtaking descent from glory… and we give lost sinners “Feliz Navidad” auto-tuned for a laugh?

That is bad.  Right?

Although comments have been disabled for this video, I have friends whom I’m sure would be quick to punch that little red down-turned thumb of disapproval.  Maybe you did.  If your reverence for the Lord just can’t stomach this kind of “fun” and “church” in the same space, I totally understand.  I think there is valid reason for concern.  Northpoint’s methodology says something about their theology… 

I just ask this of my red-thumb pushing friends…  Consider that what you THINK this video says about the theology of Northpoint Community Church may not actually be what this video says about the theology of Northpoint Community Church.

Assumption #1:  Northpoint doesn’t value reverence – they treat God and the Sabbath with casual indifference rather than pious humility and devotion.

Assumption #2:  Northpoint believes they need to pander to culture, rather than creating a counter-culture, in order to connect with the unchurched.

Assumption #3:  Northpoint displays a fundamental misunderstanding of worship when they mix “entertainment” into the church service.

I’m here to challenge all of those assumptions.

On the first point, I’ll submit the following alternative…  Could it be that Northpoint DOES, in fact, know how to lead their congregation into times of deep, reverent worship?  Is it possible that they have a VERY clear understanding of worship, and that it is a sacrificial offering of ourselves to the Lord?  Is it possible that Northpoint sets aside times for communication with God that are intensely personal and reverent, while having the freedom to laugh together and have fun in community at other times?  I can answer that… yes they do.

I have seen, heard, and participated in worship with the Northpoint community.  Their reverence for God runs deep.  He is exalted as sovereign over all.  Remember that this video was only 7 minutes long.  What did they do with the other 76 minutes they were together that morning?  I bet the truth of the Word was shared.  I bet there was a time for people to think, and listen to God, and respond.  I bet reverent worship happened in that space.  Maybe a better question… considering that we are called to worship as an ongoing state of being, is there really anything wrong with taking 7 minutes out of the 110,880 minutes we have each week to have a little fun?

In response to the second point, I’ll submit the following alternative…  Could it be that Northpoint does not “pander to culture” because they don’t believe that the Gospel is “enough” to win the spiritually skeptical, but instead they “become all things to all men” (like Paul on Mars Hill in Athens) and speak the language of the culture (like Jesus did, using present day analogies to communicate timeless truth through parables) in order to START the conversation… to get the unchurched neighbor in the door… in order that they might hear the life-saving message of the Gospel?  I can answer that… yes they do.

In but not of.  IN but not of.  IN THE WORLD, but not of it.  “I do not pray that you take them out of the world…” Jesus asked His Father on our behalf (John 17), “but that you would keep them safe from the evil one.”  Again, how will our neighbors come to faith if they never hear the truth?  And if an iBand video on YouTube brings some curious visitors in the door… in the door of a church… where the Gospel is preached…  Is that bad?

In response to the third point, I’ll submit the following alternative…  Could it be that Northpoint is not sinfully engaged in irreverent license here, but instead is joyfully reflecting the freedom we have in Jesus?

Um…  I actually can’t answer that one.  Not for sure.  But I give them the benefit of the doubt.  Here’s why:

And this one is actually a really big deal.  I’m a deep believer in allowing FUN in church.  We are commanded over and over again to rejoice in the Lord, and that the JOY of the Lord is our strength.  Further, we are set free for freedom’s sake in Jesus Christ.  FREEDOM and JOY.  I’d submit that a theology that does not allow fun within the walls of the church is not somehow more pious.  It’s just less fun. 

Because I have seen the clear preaching of Law and Gospel from Northpoint, and because many many many many souls have been saved through this ministry, I trust that this yuletide iBand is simply in keeping with their clearly stated calling as a church… to be a church for the unchurched.  I trust that they know full well the difference between entertainment and worship.  I trust that they have learned that flash and production values might pique an unbeliever’s interest, but only Jesus can save a soul.  Bottom line…  I trust that God is at work there.

I’m deeply concerned that we understand our place before a Holy God.  That we know what it means to fear Him as the Sovereign King.  But I think Northpoint understands that, too.  I think they just enjoy being alive.  Maybe where you fall on the thumbs-up/thumbs-down scale with this technogeek carol fest in church has less to do with your theology and more to do with your assumptions.  Or maybe it says a whole bunch about mine.

What do you think?

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“northpoint, ipads, and christmas cheer :: can fun and reverence coexist?” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Not too long ago I got a great email from a young and growing family in our church…

“We have been discussing Christmas and are trying to decide what traditions we want our family to start/continue.  Looking for feedback as to what you each do with your families to help ensure that the season is for the reason…”

A month ago at Living Hope Church this entire family was baptized together.  Mom, Dad, and all the kids… including little tiny Miles, who wasn’t supposed to make it to delivery, according to the doctors and statistics.  But he did – all four pounds of him.  And he helped turn his parents’ hearts fully Godward in the process.

Now they want input.  Traditions.  Can you help?

Here’s the Skogerboe Christmas Eve Master List.  Traditions + Significance.  Here’s what Christmas Eve looks like with our family.  Full of traditions… and this year I appreciated them more than I ever have before.  I watch the effect they have on my kids, and the opportunities these traditions provide to learn deeper lessons.  (Or not, in some cases, as you’ll see below…)  But it all adds up to Christmas magic.  Here we go:

(1)  The candle-light Christmas Eve service before dinner…  In years when we don’t have a service at Living Hope, our family joins with Grandma and Grandpa Lee for a traditional Lutheran Christmas Eve service at Grace Free Lutheran Church.  Traditional Christmas hymns and carols.  Organ.  Piano.  Violin.  Reading of the Christmas Story.  “O Holy Night” sung by Pastor Monseth (although he had laryngitis this year and a fellow pastor filled in), and a gospel-themed message that points us beyond the manger to the cross.  Very little changes from year to year.  It’s all warm and familiar and bathed in pine scent and candle wax.  SIGNIFICANCE:  We all need to hear what matters most over and over, because our circumstances change, and our experiences may change us, but the amazing condescension of God Almighty at Christmas NEVER changes.  Also, men apparently get a one-day free pass from the fashion police if they squeeze into too-small sweaters… provided those sweaters are (A) bright red, (B) hand woven in Norway, and/or (C) contain a Christmas-themed winter scene.

(2)  The reading of the Christmas story at the table before we eat…  Every year as we sit up to the table for our Christmas Eve feast, Grandpa Bob will once again pull out his worn Bible, and read the Christmas story from Luke chapter two.  The smell of savory goodness from the kitchen is tempting, but first things first.  Grandpa’s rich baritone voice reads the familiar words, and his prayer of thanks always goes far beyond the food we’re about to eat.  SIGNIFICANCE:  Jesus comes first.  He’s the reason for everything good that we enjoy.  Everything we enjoy is therefore a reason to worship.  That, and the fact that delayed gratification is a sub-theme of Christmas Eve that applies to adults and kids alike.

(3)  THE quintessential Christmas Eve dinner…  And I emphasize THE because, at this point, eating anything else would just feel… like cheating.  Grandma Lo sets the table with candles and greenery and Christmas dishes.  Grandpa Bob slaves over his fresh-ground cardamom-enhanced aebleskivers (round pancake-like balls, somewhere in size between a golf-ball and a racquetball), and we take turns commenting on the quality of the potato sausage, perfectly browned.  We also take turns commenting on Gloria’s hot fruit soup, which without fail is the BEST this year.  (She will humbly shrug off the compliments, of course, and steer our focus to the size of the fruit pieces this year or the balance of citrus fruit in the mix.)  We all stuff our aebleskivers with some mix of fruit preserves, sour cream, whipped cream, apple sauce, butter, cherries, or (in my case) a dab of peanut butter.  Everyone competes for the most savory combination.  It’s a perfect ensemble for the palate.  SIGNIFICANCE:  Although I could struggle to come up with some metaphor for international unity or global peace represented by the Danish (aebleskiver) – Norwegian (fruktsoppa) – Swedish (potato sausage) culinary trifecta before us, I think I’ll go with this…  Food is way more fun if it’s ball-shaped.

(4)  Dishes before presents…  Is it just me, or is this a universal torture technique of all parents with young children?  I had to endure the seemingly endless clean-up regimen after dinner when I was a wee lad.  And now we foist this cruelty upon our own pancake-ball stuffed offspring.  But why?  I know.  I hear the sage wisdom of those who have gone before ringing in my ears even now…  “We do what we must do so that we can do what we want to do.”  Patience.  Responsibility.  Cooperation.  Right.  I think the real reason behind this generations-old child abuse policy may be well-known but (understandably) goes unspoken…  SIGNIFICANCE:  It’s a parental power trip.  There’s nothing more endorphin-producing than holding out the greatest moment in your young child’s year like a carrot as they drool and vibrate in place.  It’s awesome.  Also, the entire kitchen gets cleaned in about 14 seconds.  I tried to spring for a quick vacuuming of my minivan and alphabetization of my music library this year before presents, as well, before Amy shot me down.

(5)  Lighting of the Advent Wreath and singing of the Christmas carol that corresponds to each candle…  First the Prophecy candle.  Bethlehem.  Shepherds.  Angels.  And the tall one in the middle… the Christ candle.  All the kids try to remember which one comes next – to be the first to shout it out.  And we SING.  This year I noticed a marked increase in our volume.  The tribe is growing.  Inevitably Amy will try to extend each song by beginning the obscure third and fourth verses, and we all struggle to remember the words.  Without fail, someone will repeatedly throw a “Grandma” in JUST before we launch into “Glo-o-o-o-ria” on “Angels We Have Heard on High,” and everyone looks at Grandma Gloria and chuckles their way through the refrain.  And the crowning moment is the final verse of “I Am so Glad Each Christmas Eve,” sung in Norwegian, as it has always been in the Lee family since Amy was a little girl.  We’ve been married for 15 years now, and I dated her for 4 years before that… but I only sing this verse once per year.  I still sound like an inebriated Swedish Chef.  One of these years I’ll pull out the ol’ Concordia Hymnal a few days early and prepare to shock them all with my Norske prowess.  SIGNIFICANCE:  With each verse, with each candle, the story sinks deeper.  It is becoming more and more a part of my children’s DNA.  The prophets foretold it.  The shepherds – the lowliest of men – were first to hear the news.  Jesus really was born in Bethlehem – just as the prophets said he would be.  Angels reminded us not to fear – that Jesus’ coming is good news – the best news ever – and it is for ALL the people.  And, of course, He would have preferred to be born in Oslo among His own people, but it’s just too nippy up there mid-to-late December.

Then, of course, the ripping and shredding of carefully wrapped packages ensues with fervor.  We encourage eye contact and hugs after every gift.  And expectation finally meets reality.  Just as it was 2000 years ago when Jesus came – on the first Christmas Eve.

What are your traditions as a family?  Let me know what makes Christmas feel like Christmas to you…



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“tradition, pancake balls, and singing in norwegian :: thank you grandpa bob” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Sunday morning December 20, 2009 was an epic day at Living HopeSara Renner and the Elements joined us for our Christmas Celebration.  And it was a party.  But it was also fascinating to watch as a ministry leader.  This was powerful, and I don’t want to miss the take-aways for us in ministry.

Sara is a working musician here in the Twin Cities with national range.  Hockey fans may recognize her.  She was chosen to sing the national anthem at the Excel Energy Center before every home game for the Wild last year.  But her real passion is WORSHIP and praise of Jesus Christ.  The Elements are a team of hand picked musicians who share her love for God and excel in their craft.  Sara and her team of friends truly make up some of the best musicians the Twin Cities has to offer.


In Sara’s words,

“Music can move you… but it can’t change you.  It can’t heal you.  It can’t set you free.  Only God can do those things.  All of the things that we rehearse, all of our gifts and our talents are meaningless without the anointing of God.  And so, in our lives we try to reflect a real faith in Christ, and in our music we try to be excellent, but more than anything, we pray that God’s Spirit comes and changes people through what we do.”

Sara brings a level of excellence that communicates fearlessness and humility at the same time.  Mix that with spiritual maturity, deep joy, and a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, and the results are exuberant.  It’s a contagious faith on display.

You can hear freedom in the keyboard solo by Billy Steele.  Fearlessness.  Joy.  It’s more than skill.  It is true spiritual freedom for Billy and for Sara.  I want to be a better musician, so I can be a more fearless leader, so I can communicate joy with greater freedom.  And if the focus remains on Jesus, He gets the credit.  He gets all the glory.

Sara Renner and the Elements performing live in concert at Living hope Church in St. Michael-Albertville, MN. December 20, 2009.  This was the end of the closing song in the concert. A great end to our Living Hope Christmas Celebration.

Outstanding musicianship and authentic joy in Jesus.  Humility and fearlessness.  Sensitivity to the Holy Spirit.  And always – always – always keeping the focus on Jesus Christ.  Those were my take-aways.  Those are ministry markers I will strive for.

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“sara renner and the elements live at living hope :: fearless joy” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

OK.  This find made me smile.  My accappella men’s vocal music roots run deep.  I know it hasn’t been dominating the pop charts since the Nylons remake of “Na Na Hey Hey Goodbye,” circa 1987, but a nerdy side of myself that I have come to terms with still has a soft spot for good ol’ doo-wop awesomeness.

Thanks to my friend Becky Torfin for introducing these guys to me on Facebook.

Twelve Days of Christmas.  With extra awesome sauce.  Enjoy…


What gets YOU in the Christmas spirit?


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“accappella is cool :: christmas on the serengeti” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.