Archives For living hope church

ambassadors

July 25, 2012 — 2 Comments

July 22, 2012. Living Hope Church in St. Michael-Albertville, MN.  Sunday night service.

Our primary text was 2 Corinthians 5:16 – 6:2.  We discussed the CHANGE God brings to our relationships, the CALL we have as those who speak for Him, and the CHOICE we have in light of the cross.  It is a message about the way are called to relate to EVERYONE around us, and a message about who we are called to be in Jesus Christ.

Jesus radically changes the way we view and relate to EVERYONE in our life.  Spouses, friends, family, enemies.  Saved people, hostile people, kind people, spiteful people.  Everyone.

NOTE: My friends at Living Hope will remember that I began this message with a story about my college buddy Jason Upton singing in chapel and how that changed my view of who he was.  I couldn’t legally post the copyrighted music clip I used on this website, but if you are interested in hearing more from Jason, the song I played was called “Freedom,” found on his album “Faith,” which you can find on iTunes right here.

Click on the tab below to stream the audio…

June 24, 2012. Living Hope Church in St. Michael-Albertville, MN.  Sunday night service.  This message follows the death and funeral earlier in the week of our congregation’s dear friend Jeremy Erickson.  Many in our church prayed hard for Jeremy’s recovery.  We asked for a miraculous healing, but Jeremy left us for heaven even so.  The death of a loved one raises many questions…

Does God exist?  If so, can he hear our prayers?  Is He simply so HUGE that He doesn’t bother with our little lives? And who is to blame for this loss?  Didn’t we pray hard enough, or correct enough?  Was it sin in Jeremy’s life that caused him to suffer and die?  Or was that God’s plan?  And if he can do anything, but he didn’t choose to heal Jeremy, how can he be good?  Even more to the point… is his heart good towards me?

So many questions.  This message wades into the deeper water, where our theology is tested in a sea of grieving.  In the deep water, God comes to us.

Click on the tab below to stream the audio…

Jeremy Erickson. Entered heaven on June 10, 2012. Thank you, God, for his life and friendship. Jer, I’m looking forward to seeing you again.

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.



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

superchristian

August 11, 2011

June 5, 2011.  Living Hope Church in St. Michael-Albertville, MN.

If anyone can be considered a Superchristian, it’s the apostle Peter, right?  He was a man of action.  He was a hero.  And we need heroes, don’t we?  But we are risking a lot when we expect our heroes to be more than men.  We are risking a lot more when we set ourselves up as a Superchristian to be looked up to by… the regular Christians out there.

Even Peter was an embarrassment.

A man of action.  A hero.  An embarrassment.  And then… REDEEMED.   The world needs a hero.  Are you that hero?  I hope you know better…

Click on the tab below to stream the audio…


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

Last weekend Amy and I attended a fantastic marriage retreat weekend sponsored by FamilyLife Ministries. One of the main presenters for the weekend, a Family and Marriage Counselor and former Baptist Pastor, asked us the following question:  “Do you know why Baptists are opposed to premarital sex?”

Answer:  “It might lead to dancing.”

With apologies to my Baptist brothers and sisters in the Lord –  that right there is funny.  And believe me, as a Lutheran Seminary student, I laugh just as hard at a good Lutheran joke.  We all have our denominational and generational and locational (is that a word?) idiosyncrasies that set us apart. 

This joke obviously has nothing to do with dancing as an act of worship, but it still reminded me of the differences between us as evangelicals.  With all of our differences in emphasis and practice, we do have one thing in common, regardless of denomination, age, or locale…  the tension in our corporate worship experiences of balancing reverence and celebration, dignity and joy, obedience and freedom.

In our churches, we are inviting human beings into the presence of God.  We are witnesses in our worship gatherings of a beautiful and powerful collision of the hearts of men and the holiness of God.  There is confrontation, brokenness, proclamation of what is true, forgiveness of sins, reverence and FREEDOM.

We are witnesses of the supernatural when we experience the relational presence of God. The fact that we can stand in the presence of the Holy Creator God – all powerful and righteous King of Kings – and yet be honest before Him about our sin and our deep need for His grace – THAT is FREEDOM.

And sometimes, it makes me want to dance.

Yesterday in our Historical Books class, my Seminary brothers and I were walking through 2 Samuel, and the story of David, the new King of Israel.  There is a great story in chapter 6, verses 12-23, about David dancing before the Lord and before all the people of Israel.  The Ark of the Covenant is being returned to Israel from the Philistines.  It was a powerful symbol of God’s presence and blessing.  This was a moment in history of profound meaning for God’s people.  And as the Ark was being brought into David’s city, verse 14 says:

“David danced before the Lord with all His might.  And David was wearing a linen ephod.”

Think of a linen ephod as the official loincloth of the priests.  Instead of dressing in His royal attire, representing his position of authority, David was dressed and functioning as a priest – a mediator between God’s people and the Almighty.  He was unashamedly celebrating the return of God’s presence and favor with wild abandon… and he didn’t care who was watching.  The dance was “before the Lord.”  It was for Him.

As he danced wildly below, his wife Michal looked at the window, and saw his undignified behavior, and she despised him for it.  Her husband was making a fool of himself, and it reflected badly on her.  When she confronted him, David said:

“It was before the Lord…  I will celebrate before the Lord.  I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes.”

From that day forward, verse 23 says, Michal was barren.  God’s judgment rested not on David for his lack of religious decorum, but on his wife Michal for her concern with outward appearances.

I have no idea what your Sunday morning experience looks like.  You might be arm raisers, victory shouters, hand clappers, and dancers for all I know.  Or, you may attend a church where clapping never happens, and the order of service is structured and reverent in a quieter, more “dignified” style.  To both camps and the many variations inbetween, I say God bless you!  Engage your heart with Lord’s truth and respond appropriately with obedience and thanksgiving.  It’s not about the form, but about the substance of our worship.  I’m a drummer, and I lead worship with a contemporary rhythm section almost every week in our church.  But my roots are more traditional, and singing hymns with an organ allows me great freedom to express my love to God too.  It’s not about the form.

And in the end, that’s the point of this post.  It is OK to have a prefered style.  I think God is reminding us here that what matters is not what our worship looks like, but whether it springs from an honest heart in response to the truth.  Worship happens “before the Lord.”  Sure, I believe there are posers in every church – trying to make it look right.  But for those who are celebrating, crying out, or humbly remaining silent before Him… it is before the Lord.  It is not meant for you.  Every sacrifice is the Lord’s to judge, and the Lord looks at the heart.

If you belive that your prefered style of worship is the “correct” way to worship, I’m challenging you to rethink that belief. 

“David Danced – Michal Watched” by David Steele

 Michal was loyal
To everything royal
For she was the daughter of Saul.
But her husband was boorish
So awfully boorish
With simply no manners at all.

 

It was her fate
To marry a mate
Who had grown up with chickens and sheep
How to bring charm
To this boy from the farm
Was causing his queen to lose sleep.

 

Oh, she had to confess
He was a success,
In the eyes of the world, Dave was famous
But of how kings comport
Themselves when in court
He remained a complete ignoramus.

 

David’s heart soared
And he danced to the Lord
In a manner more free than refined.
And his poor little wife
Got the shock of her life
So she gave him a piece of her mind.

 

“I don’t care a smidgen
About your religion
As long as it’s solemn and chaste
But the way you’re behaving
With arms wildly waving
Is shockingly lacking in taste.”

 

“If you must raise
Your spirit in praise,
Please see that it’s soothing and calm.
The Lord I am sure
Would really prefer
Something more like the 23rd Psalm.”

 

Then God’s anointed
Became disappointed
He knew he had nary a chance
Of ever persuadin’
This prim, regal maiden
That the Lord is a lover of dance.

 

Churches these days
Talk a lot about praise
And the Joy that accomp’nies Good News
But don’t tap your feet
Or get out of the seat
For Michal still lurks in the pews.

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“with apologies to my baptist brothers… :: david danced, michal watched” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

light of the world

February 8, 2011

February 6, 2011. Living Hope Church in St. Michael-Albertville, MN.  2 Peter 1:19-21  ::  The Word of God, and specifically what it has to say about Jesus Christ, is a God-sent gift of LIGHT in a world full of darkness and pain and uncertainty.  Jesus the HOPE-BRINGER.  Jesus, the “Light of the World.”

When it comes to what you believe about the Bible and what it has to say about Jesus, the LIGHT makes all the difference…

“And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:19-21)

The song we sing following the message is “Marvelous Light” by Charlie Hall, copyright 2005 worshiptogether.com songs (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing) / sixsteps Music (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing).

If you have questions (or challenges) after watching this message, please leave a comment below or shoot me an emailI’d love to talk with you about what a difference the LIGHT has made in my life.

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

I’ve been hurting and praying for the family of Tyler Clementi.  His death is deeply tragic.  And I believe that bullying is a big deal.  We ought to treat each other in civil society with respect, and we need to raise our children to treat other people with respect.  Even those we disagree with.  Especially those we disagree with.

This post will take a little time to develop, so I want to be clear about my purposes for writing it up front.

FIRST:  If you’re a student somewhere being bullied because you are gay, and you are considering checking out – just to escape the pain of it – please don’t.  You are loved.  I know that to my very core.  God didn’t screw up when he made you.  He wants to fill your life with purpose.  There are hundreds of voices on YouTube and everywhere right now sending you the message that “IT GETS BETTER.”  And if you can make it through this tough season of life, where you’re surrounded by jerks, you’ll soon come out the other side and enter a new phase of life – free from that kind of intense bullying that cuts you down.  So my first message to you is this:  HANG IN THERE, because you’re deeply valuable.  And I’m a Christian guy who believes that being gay is not God’s plan for you – I’ve written about this stuff before.  But listen, you are more than your sexual nature, and you matter to us and to God, no matter what your sexual orientation.  I hope you’re willing to keep reading this, and keep thinking.

SECOND:  Gene Robinson is an enemy of God.  He is one of the voices proclaiming the “it gets better message,” and I have posted his video below.  While I believe he means well, and many gay young people have been encouraged by his message, he is misrepresenting God, and God’s Church.  I do not hate Gene Robinson, and I do not oppose his message because he is gay.  Rather, I oppose his message because he is wrong.  More on that below…

You’ve maybe never read this blog before, so I want to help you put what I’m about to write into context.  Everybody has a foundational set of beliefs building the framework of their life story, even those of us who never think it through or put it into words.  Here are a few of mine:

With regards to Faith and Life:

(1)  I believe that God is sovereign, and His Word (the Bible) is perfect and authoritative on all issues pertaining to faith and life.

(2)  I believe that every single person on earth (myself included) has been born with a sinful nature, and is therefore condemned to an eternity apart from God.  We can’t fix it through anything we do. Period.

(3)  Jesus Christ died on a cross to save us from that sin.  He is the only road to forgiveness and a restored relationship with God.  Yes, that message is exclusive.  Jesus alone is our only hope.  That’s basic Christian doctrine.

(4)  God is a God of love and justice.  His standards are not flexible, because He is holy, and that means He is pure and “other than us.”  Our human minds cannot contain or explain Him in this regard.  But He also loves us with a fierce, protective, all-consuming, life-changing love that is not bound by the limits of even the deepest love of man.  Our human minds cannot contain or explain Him in this regard. 

With regards to homosexuality:

(1)  I believe that God’s Word makes it clear that homosexual activity is sin.  I know many believe they can explain away the several passages in scripture that make this clear.  But those arguments do not stand up to sound standards of Biblical interpretation.  Therefore, I reject the argument that “God didn’t really say that.”  He did say that.  People have the free will to choose to live set against His Word.  But it is simply not true that the Bible is in any way unclear on this matter.

(2)  I’m not sure what my Christian brothers and sisters would say to me in this one, but here goes…  I believe that the evidence of nature, personal witness, and common sense makes it clear that some people are born with a homosexual proclivity.  I am making a clear distinction here between homosexual nature and homosexual behavior.  The clear testimony of many homosexuals, including some of my friends, is that their very earliest memories of a sexual nature involved same-sex attraction.

So, now what…?

The two statements above create tension.  On the one hand, God is saying that acting on one’s homosexual feelings is sin, and a violation of His relationship with us – enough of a violation (actually, EVERY sin is enough) to separate us from God forever.  No heaven.  No hope.  Just regret, guilt, pain, fear and darkness.  On the other hand, some people seem to grow up with an attraction to people of their own gender.  How can this be?  How can God allow this?  It isn’t fair.  It is too much to ask…

I have a lot of empathy for those with a homosexual predisposition.  Some fight it.  Others embrace it.  Still others live in the middle ground somewhere.  At some point, to come to a degree of mental peace about this issue, a person with a homosexual nature has to examine what they believe about the morality of homosexual behavior.  If you’re gay, and have looked at the Bible and agree that it seems clear that homosexuality (expressed through lifestyle) is wrong, you must be either full of conflict, or you have chosen to reject the Bible as a valid authority in today’s culture.  If, on the other hand, you simply discount the Bible, being a homosexual today is much easier.

But easy does not equal right.  It’s often the hard road that is the best one.  And doing the right thing comes at a cost.  That’s true in every area of life, and it really matters.  It’s easier to cheat on tests and papers in school.  It’s easier to follow the crowd into all kinds of bad moral choices than it is to humbly go the right direction.  It’s easier for any man, gay or straight, to chase his sinful sexual nature into multiple relationships, but committing to one for life through marriage is so much better – and it is the only moral choice, with the authority of the Bible making that clear.

Unfortunately, the evangelical Christian community has often handled our relationships with gay people clumsily – or with venom.  A mean-spirited approach to people with a homosexual predisposition destroys our ability to share the life-giving message of Jesus.  We have not, in general, loved gay people very well as a community, because (to some degree) we don’t know how.  But we do know that the Bible says “don’t do it,” so we point our fingers and feel justified in doing so.  It is possible, Church, to be clear on moral lines, and still love people well.  In his way, Gene Robinson is trying to tell gay young people that we (evangelical Christians) have failed to show love, but that doesn’t mean God isn’t loving.  In as far as that goes, I agree with Gene.

HOWEVER, Gene Robinson is not just a random dude on the street.  Gene Robinson is a Bishop – a “representative” of God and God’s people.  He is influential, and many outside the church see him as a representative of those of us who identify ourselves as a part of Jesus’ family.  For this reason, when he speaks on behalf of God, and boldly proclaims lies as the truth, he becomes an enemy of the truth.  He is working against God.  And he is working against you, too.

Here is Bishop Gene Robinson’s “It Gets Better” message:

Gene Robinson, I’m sure, wants to help and encourage you if you are gay and are facing hostility, bullying, or just differing points of view.  I respect people’s freedom to live as they please in this country, and I am grateful for free speech.  But that door swings both ways.  Gene is free to proclaim things about God and about His people that are not true, and I am free to publicly oppose that message as not just a little bit off base, but actually demonic heresy.  Gene Robinson is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  He may be a nice man, but I will take a stand today against his message.

When he says that your Baptist parents’ message  that God does not accept a homosexual lifestyle is “flat out not true,” he is wrong.  God won’t stop loving you, but his moral standards do not endorse homosexuality.  That is a hard truth, but being hard doesn’t make it wrong.

Mr Robinson goes on to say that God wants you to “be the way you are,” and that God made you that way… that He doesn’t want you to change.  The hard truth is, sin in the world has corrupted men – every one – so that we want things that we should not desire, and we long for things that go against God’s will for us.  In fact, all of us have sinned and have a broken relationship with God.  That’s why Jesus came and died for us.  So that if we trust Him, he cleanses us from our sin and buys us back from the kindgom of darkness.

Gene Robinson is a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ by TITLE, but he is serving the wrong team.  If he were truly serving Jesus, he would tell the truth – that Jesus Christ died to save everyone because we all desperately NEED him to save us from our depravity.  Every sinner.  Gay and straight.  And Gene would tell you that God’s laws aren’t rewritten when they are hard to understand or seem too hard for us to live by.  God’s justice (His law) and His love (Jesus’ rescue) never change, even when the culture does.

So, if you are gay, and wondering what to do with it all, I want to tell you the truth in love.  Most Christians don’t hate you.  They (and I) may do a lousy job of loving you, but don’t write off Jesus for the failures of his kids.  We are all broken people.  We may not understand your struggles and desires, because straight people just haven’t been there.  But God does set a clear standard.  Homosexual behavior is sin.  And many, many, many people born with a homosexual inclination or nature have learned to fight that fight for love of God and the truth.  The message of the gay community right now is “It Gets Better,” and they are right.  This culture is making more and more efforts to affirm the gay lifestyle as a normal, healthy choice.  If you choose not to wrestle with the moral implications of a gay lifestyle, it will only get easier for you the older you get.  But there is grave danger in that choice.  Your life on earth is only a blink.  And then you face eternity. 

You need Jesus, because it is too hard for you without Him.  So do I, because in my way, resisting sin and earning heaven by living the perfect lifestyle is too hard for me, too.  Only in Jesus do we have any hope.  If you want to talk with me more about this, use my contact info and shoot me an email or call me up.  God does love you like crazy, and there is great hope in that truth.  But that isn’t to say we can do anything we want, and God will simply endorse it as a “no big deal” decision.  Love and justice.  Moral boundaries BECAUSE He wants the best for us.

Gene Robinson gets it ALMOST right when he says, “God wants you to live in the light of His love, and that light will take away all of this darkness…”

Unfortunately Gene is implying that we Christians, speaking the truth about God’s clear Biblical guidelines, we are the darkness.  He would seek to put a dividing wall between God’s love and “religious people.”  Gene is wrong.  SIN is the darkness.  He is on the wrong team.  One day Gene will answer to God for his life.  So will I.  So will you.  And on that day, the light WILL take away all darkness – all sin, of every kind will be eradicated.  Between that day and this one, we all need Jesus.  Thankfully,God DOES love us beyond our wildest imagining.  He loves us enough to show us the hard truth in His Word, and to send Jesus to do the impossible on our behalf.

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“it will get better, but that’s not the point :: a response to gene robinson, with my gay friends and the church listening in” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

“The worship was great today! Awesome job.”

As a Worship Pastor, when I hear that, I feel two things simultaneously… a sudden urge to give someone a hug, and a sudden urge to throw up in my mouth a little bit.

I know… people are out to encourage the worship guy. And they probably did have a genuinely inspiring time connecting with God. I get it. As the encouragee, that’s the part of me that wants to embrace my encourager with an “I love you, man” back slap.

Truth is, I get a little bit uncomfortable rating worship on a scale of “horrible” to “awesome sauce.”  Truth be told, if we are “rating” our worship experience, we don’t really understand worship, right?  Now, I’m not an idiot. (Some of you may want to chime in here, but we’re moving on…) I do understand that this may be a matter of semantics to some degree.

But words matter.

Precise language matters. Sometimes you can accidentally communicate all kinds of things you never meant to say, simply with careless word choices. So, as a Worship Pastor, I’m careful about this stuff.

Worship doesn’t = music.  You probably came to that conclusion years ago.  But what is it again exactly? Worship is our response to God for who He is, for what He has said, for what He has done, and for what He is going to do.  We love God because He loved us.  Worship at it’s core is a response of love and gratitude expressed to God because of the gospel.  Music works great to help that happen, when a whole group of people are in the same space for the purpose of worshipping God.  That’s why churches use it.  Music helps focus many individual hearts on some aspect of God, so that we might respond with love… or examine our hearts and humbly confess our need for God… our brokenness. Our sin. But the response – whatever God prompts – that response is the worship.

If we keep that in mind, how strange to rate our worship experience on a quality scale, right?  But we do.

At Living Hope Church, I love it when people talk to me about the music AND their worship experience – as two separate thoughts. It shows me that they get it… The quality of their WORSHIP response to God has much more to do with their view of GOD then it does with the quality of the MUSIC we lead.

This stuff has been rattling around in my brain these last few days since a friend of mine posted a thought on Facebook about excellence in church production…

AMEN.  As a long-standing and vocal promoter of excellence in church art, music, design, programming, production, etc. I think this bears repeating often.  My ultimate standard in measuring “excellence” in ministry production is this…  Is it effective?

I don’t mean “effective” as in just “good enough for church.”  I’ll even take “inspiring.”  Good times.  But my ministry PURPOSE must help clarify my methods.  As a worship leader and service planner, my purpose is to help clearly communicate the hard truth that we are all depraved sinners, dead in our sin, needing rescue and resuscitation… and the AMAZING true love story that Jesus Christ died on a cross and rose from the dead for us, to restore us to life and meaning and joy again.  Our purpose is to provide space and opportunity for people to respond to that truth week after week.  That’s it.  The heart of it.

Therefore, if our music and lighting and production becomes SO “excellent” that it begins to draw attention to itself… then it is no longer “excellent.”  Because it is no longer effective.  Because then the production is drawing attention AWAY from the Lord.  In fact, that’s not just a little bit of a focus problem… that is the polar opposite of the ministry purpose.

So, can BAD musicianship / drama / art / lighting / production hinder worship?  Absolutely.  And can AMAZING musicianship / art / drama / lighting / production hinder worship.  Absolutely.  Non-distracting + inspiring + authentic + humble = thumbs up.  Amazing showmanship with extra flash sauce = thumbs down.

So if you’re in the habit of giving your worship leader at church a high five after a particularly rippin’ guitar solo and telling him “The worship was AWESOME today!” you might want to take a step back…  Ask yourself if you gave yourself to Jesus again today, fully surrendered, as a walking THANK YOU to God for who He is and what He’s done in your life.  If so, worship WAS awesome today.  Even if the Praise Team played with the sensitivity and musical agility of a pregnant yak.  Doesn’t matter.  What matters is what was going on in your heart, and how you responded to God’s love today.

If you’re a worship leader who is in the habit of rating your church’s worship experience based on the quality of the music you produce, you are giving yourself too much credit.  Worship isn’t “better” if you sing like Tomlin, play like Brewster, and your light system looks like a Pink Floyd retrospective.  Remember that the music, the art, the production is the TOOL.

Worship is the goal.

 

 

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“supressing my gag reflex :: worship leading with excellence… but not too much excellence” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Personally, I prefer a sloppy wet kiss to an unforeseen one.

I could just let that stand as my entire blog post, and I’d probably field a slew of comments… albeit far ranging in subject matter and context.

But if you have lead worship in a church with any contemporary leanings in the last six months, I’d bet you a ham sandwich that you know EXACTLY what I’m talking about.  I am referring, of course, to that great declaration of the love of God in the epic ballad “How He Loves,” by John Mark McMillan (or “JMM” as the church creative community calls him these days.)

I knew this song was a big deal.  I knew it the first time I heard it.  And then a couple weeks ago uber-blogger Carlos Whittaker posted a question on his blog (ragamuffinsoul.com) about what songs really seem to be powerfully impacting local churches across the country right now.  Hundreds of worship leaders, pastors, and lay people commented and left their lists of what God seems to be blessing and using right now to speak to his church.  At the top of the list?  Yep.  “How He Loves.”

The crux of the issue of discussion comes in verse three.  Listen to these two brief examples, first in the original format, the way John wrote and recorded it, and then the updated version, as recorded by David Crowder:

[audio:http://www.jskogerboe.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/howheloves_2kisses.mp3|titles=howheloves_2kisses]

     >> Original (via JMM):  Heaven meets earth like a SLOPPY WET kiss

     >> Updated (via Crowder):  Heaven meets earth like an UNFORESEEN kiss

If you’re a worship leader, you have most likely already come down on one side or the other of this debate.  It has been interesting to watch.  Now the debate rolls on, as various congregations and artists consider the ramifications of rewriting someone else’s poetry to edit out the distracting (or offensive) phrases.  How does John Mark McMillan feel about all of the hubbub?  You can read his excellent response here.  In a nut shell, he has no problem with David Crowder recording his song with the new text… on the other hand, he’s asking why the Church can’t handle singing about God stuff using the phrase “sloppy wet kiss.”  “Are we in Kindergarten?” he asks.

And to be clear, John wasn’t EVER intending to say that somehow God interacts with us, His children, through a “sloppy wet kiss.”  The lyrics are “heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss.”  It is the messy, beautiful mingling of the divine and the natural realm through Jesus’ condescension – most specifically at the cross – that John is marvelling at here.  “But,” he says, “Heaven meets earth like a ‘gory mess’ didn’t have the same ring to it.”

Right.  Here’s the thing…

When it comes to the corporate worship setting, we as worship leaders are called to model authentic worship and lead in such a way that people can focus on and respond to God in an intimate way.  Free of distractions.

And THAT is the issue for me.  Like I said at the top of the post, I prefer sloppy wet kisses to unforeseen kisses.  The artist in me revels in the beauty of that poetic idea.  Just a few well chosen words convey so much depth and emotion.  So if I am singing this in my car, or in the shower, or in my prayer closet… I’m all about those sloppy wet kisses.

But when I lead this song at Living Hope Church, I know… because they have told me so… that a number of people in our congregation just get weebed out singing that phrase.  It’s not that we’re not mature enough somehow to sing “sloppy wet kisses” without blushing.  It’s simply that the phrase is awkward.  It is arresting, because it is so vivid a metaphor.  And the fact that it is arresting makes the phrase both powerful (in an artistic sense) and ineffective (in our church) as a worship tool.  So what could be a POWERFUL reminder and declaration of God’s love for us runs the danger of becoming…  that “sloppy wet kiss” song.

One little change of wording, and the whole song works – powerfully – free of distraction, and full passion.

Yep, I’ve done this song both ways.  On one occasion, when I failed to communicate clearly with our vocalists on the Worship Team, we did it both ways at the same time.  I don’t recommend that. 

But from this point on, I’ve choose to lead with “unforeseen kiss.”  At the end of the day, it is NOT about my preference.  It is NOT about singing the better poetry.  In the end, when I lead worship I want to help our people throw themselves deeper into their love response to God – and that means removing distractions as we lead them.  That means that our purpose trumps our preferences every time.

How about your church?  Are you all down with your bad selves and rockin’ that sloppy wet kiss?  Or are you surrendering to the less provocative unforeseen kiss?  And more to the point… why?

    

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“the great sloppy wet kiss debate :: preference, poets, and purpose” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

My smartphone is practically a Transformer.  Freaks me out.  If I program it correctly, it will get up before I do, put on a pot of coffee, and whip me up a nice plate of Eggs Bene (with scrambled eggs… poached eggs are gross) and a side of Hash Browns.
 
But with all that my phone can do, and all of it’s multi-media functionality, I still hold on to my trusty 3rd Gen clickwheel iPod to listen to music.
 
Why?  Because Apple flat out dominates the market when it comes to well-designed, high quality, easy to use, techno-magical user interface driven music players.  My Smartphone can play music.  It could crank out U2’s “Beautiful Day” as it gently browned my morning potatoes if it wanted to.  But it does so many other things that it is a little clumsy to use as a music player. For music, my iPod is magic.  It does exactly what it is designed to do very well.
 
Today the long awaited new Kindle from Amazon is slated to be released.  When specs for this next generation of the Kindle were released last month, technofiles watched closely for signs of video capabilities and a flashier, more interactive e-book experience.  In an online article from engadget.com, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos responded, “For the vast majority of books, adding video and animation is not going to be helpful. It is distracting rather than enhancing. You are not going to improve Hemingway by adding video snippets,” adding later, “there are going to be 100 companies making LCD [screen] tablets… why would we want to be 101? I like building a purpose-built reading device. I think that is where we can make a real contribution.”
 
I love that.  A clear, focused purpose.  A device designed to fulfill a specific mission.  We don’t need more bells and whistles.  We want to produce the best electronic device for reading e-books.  Ever.  That’s it.  There is no “cook me breakfast” app.  Streaming video, shmeaming video.  But if you want to read an e-book, let me tell you why this baby is the cat’s pajamas.
 
(As a side note, what does that MEAN?  Cat’s pajamas?)
 
But this post isn’t really about e-readers or music players.  It is about church.  It is about the value of a clear, focused purpose.
 
I think most churches would say they agree on WHAT we are called to do as a local church… and it probably sounds something like “Helping build a community of people who used to be far from God and now are growing into fully devoted disciples of Jesus.”  Basically, local churches look at the “big ones” from Jesus about our mission here on earth in Matthew 22 (“Love God. Love people.”) and Matthew 28 (“Go and make disciples…”), and try to word it in a unique way that fits on a t-shirt.
 
But God has uniquely wired your church, and my church, to reach specific people… in a specific way.  If you go to church, and your church family and leaders love Jesus, we probably agree on 99% of the WHAT.  But your church and my church NEED to listen to God on the SPECIFIC mission we are called to, in the community we are placed, with the specific mix of personalities and gifts that God unites in our congregation.
 
Without a clear, specific, focused purpose, many churches simply rely on what has been done before.  Others are innovation junkies, trying to stay just a step ahead of the Church of the Joneses across the street.  Others think the best way to accomplish the WHAT of Matthew 22 and Matthew 28 is to do more and offer more and be more…  They run the risk of becoming a “menu-of-ministries” church, driven either by the felt needs of the community, the whims of the crowd, or the personality of the pastor.  There’s nothing wrong, per se, with offering a long list of ministries, groups, events, etc… But when a local church UNITES around a common, God-given vision for accomplishing the big WHAT, there is energy in our synergy, there is clarity in our purpose, there is intention in our action, and there is a deep sense of community in the process.
 
When Jeff Bezos was asked about whether the new Kindle would offer more bells and whistles, he said no.
 
Does your church or ministry have a clear, focused purpose?  It will help you decide what God-stuff to embrace, and what good-stuff to say “no” to.
 
[For much more on this general theme, I highly recommend the book Simple Church by Thom Rainer and Eric Grieger.  You could read it on your Kindle…]
 
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“new kindle launches today :: yeah, but can it cook me breakfast?” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.