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I’m not linking to a hundred blog posts.  I’m not starting another op-ed column.  Because this post isn’t about Rob Bell.  Or Hell.

If you haven’t seen for yourself what has the Christian subculture all stirred up, watch this…


So Rob Bell’s upcoming book may or may not suggest that there’s no Hell. Or nobody is in Hell.  Or they won’t be.  Or not for long.  We don’t know. The book comes out March 20 something.  But his publisher (HarperOne) says that Rob is (among other things)… “arguing that a loving God would never sentence human souls to eternal suffering.”

Justin Taylor responded.  John Piper tweeted.  Boom.

But this post isn’t about Rob Bell… or Hell. To the point then.

Culture shifts.  It swings like a pendulum. I often find myself looking at the pendulum of cultural ideology with a mix of fascination for the psychology of it all (like watching people you don’t know in the airport) and concern for souls (like watching a family member get on a plane to fly somewhere far away… maybe for a long time).  I carry a mix of modern-age cultural realism and heart-ache-inducing care for souls.  Always there. Watching culture swing.

Watching Rob Bell, whom this post isn’t about, I was reminded again… and then again by the Twitter explosion last Saturday… and again and again by a dozen and a half bloggers in rapid response…

One thing this current parabolic shift in Christian evangelical sub-culture has embraced that we can be sure of is… we can’t be sure of anything.

I don’t mean to use hyperbole.  We might embrace mystery.  Wonder.  We might say we just seek Jesus.  Or we want to live like Him.  But we don’t really want anyone to tell us what that means.

Relevant Magazine (giving voice to the twenty-something generation at the intersection of Christian faith and real life) just published their list of “50 ideas that changed everything.”  Number 19?  Yep.  “Nothing says FAITH like DOUBT.” Then they sucker-punched me in my email inbox with this excellent article about “Why Doubt isn’t a Dirty Word.”

One of the many blogs that was sent to me on the whole “Hell” debate, which this post isn’t about, was from thirty-something faith-life observer and Christian sub-culture Pocket-Guide author Jason Boyett, whose latest book is titled “O Me of Little Faith: True Confessions of a Spiritual Weakling.” (Which, by the way, I think you should buy for the cover art alone.  Genius.)

In the Christian realm of conversation “relativism” is frowned upon, even by those of us who have grown up steeped in post-millennial stew.  We know enough to reject “relative truth.”  Right? I mean… right?  I think the postmillennial babies that are now emerging (some pun intended) in the life of the Church as young adults believe that there are some things that are just unshakably true… if they are pressed.  But we aren’t supposed to press, as far as I can tell.

The truth is, doubt is cool right now.

In fact, doubt is seen as a sign of true humility, honest faith, open-mindedness, reasonableness, approachability.  Questions are hip. The guy this post isn’t focusing on asked 25 of them in his two and a half minute video above.  But that’s OK.  Questions make people think.  It’s just that while questions foster exploration of the possibilities, clear statements made with conviction don’t leave that kind of creative space.  Conviction communicates faith in absolutes. And absolutes are exclusive because they rule out other options.  And if you’re reading this right now, and that leaves a bad taste in your mouth… exclusive, absolute, clear-cut conviction… I’m asking the question today:  why is that?

Somehow, conviction has become equated with haughty self-righteousness and narrow-minded mean-spiritedness, pride, vulgar stubborn offensive…  conviction is a lesser value.

My heart breaks.

Who will write the book, “My Faith is Strong, and I Know in Whom I Believe”?  What has happened to the William Wallaces, crying “FREEDOM!” against the odds?  Is it no longer admirable to take a stand for a belief, or is it only admirable to take a stand for somebody else? I know, that’s a false dichotomy.  But it has some teeth.

I think the next generation Church would readily embrace the poor and broken and marginalized in our communities – take a stand for LOVE – and that is commendable.  New passion to be Jesus-with-skin-on in a way our parents often weren’t.  In a way I haven’t been.  God bless those who LOVE in Jesus name.

But will this generation also take a stand for TRUTH?  Is it admirable anymore to hold to ideals even when those ideals may be unpopular, or uncomfortable?

If someone you love is on a self-destructive path, what is the most loving thing to do?  Comfort does not equal compassion. the Bible isn’t clear about everything.  But many, many things are ringing with clarity and urgency.  There is a life and death reality that follows every soul, every heartbeat.  Even among the hostile and the apathetic.

Church! For Christ’s sake – decide what you believe!  Stand for it. Live it out.  Doubt is acceptable as a process – a pathway to further understanding.  But I don’t believe it is a virtue as a perpetual excuse to substitute personal experience for higher ideals.

Doubt may be the new faith, but I have greater respect for those who can humbly, respectfully, but unflinchingly demonstrate that they believe something to their core, and they are willing to rise or fall on that conviction.

Now to the passionate, to the men and women of conviction, the the truth-tellers and safeguards of Biblical inerrancy… please love people. It is rare to see someone stand for the Word with an iron will and the patience to engage in respectful discussion.  We have a responsibility to be Christ-like, which is impossible.  So I ask the Holy Spirit to keep shaping me, that I can be a man of great conviction and great humility.

There is this huge part of me that wants to tell you what I think about Rob Bell.  I know his book isn’t even out yet.  Certainly the world will be in a better place to have that discussion freely after four hundred bazillion of us buy his book on March twenty something.  Congratulations HarperOne.  There’s this part of me that wants to talk about hell – about the hundreds of references to this place of darkness and pain and fire spoken of in plain language in the Bible from cover to cover – and laced through Jesus’ parables about the Kingdom like a stubborn thread… making people uncomfortable.

But this post isn’t about Rob Bell… or Hell.

It’s about the value of CONVICTION.  And the necessity of HUMILITY.

UPDATE: A reader reminded me of the connection to another post that touches on the topic of speaking with conviction. If you’re curious, and you want a good laugh, check out this VIDEO and a few thoughts that follow… >> i believe, like, you know? :: in defense of the declarative voice


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“this post isn’t about rob bell… or hell :: conviction and humility” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

There are life-defining days. And more than physical location, or educational progress, or vocational advancement, I look back on my days and see a long tapestry of relationships. The places I see twists and turns in the storyline of my life are mostly relational markers, as friends come and go, and family struggles through dark days and celebrates the good ones together.

Through it all… AMY. * insert radiant smile here *

There was the summer visit to a small Lutheran Bible School in Plymouth, MN, in the summer of 1990 when I would first meet my future bride. She was already a student there, now in their summer training week to be sent out in a Summer Ministry Team. I was a new recruit… potential incoming first year student fresh out of high school. She made an impression.

I registered.  I remember September in the new school. Playing games with students in the dorms. Going out to eat with a rowdy crowd of friends. Flirting. A lot.

Then September 27, 1990… We put it out on the table. We walked down by the lake. We said things out loud. We talked for hours.

By the end of that school year I was in love. And this is why I believe in miracles… she was, too.

November 18, 1993… she said yes.

July 2, 1994… she said “I do.”

Now more than half of my life has been hers. And I feel like all the days before I met her were leading up to the day when I did. Amy is beautiful, strong-hearted, quick-witted, adventurous, playful, deeply serious about faith and family, a lover of her boys, and a lover of me. I’m in awe that this is true – as much today as I was in November of ’93. I’ve never met another person so passionate about living out the full faith life Jesus promises in John 10:10 – and doing it with enthusiasm and purpose.

As I often say, and will shout from the roof today, “I married UP!”  If you’ve never met my Amy, I can’t wait until you do. She renews my faith in the Almighty’s ability to do the impossible.  Sure, she’ll tell you it was a combination of my rock hard abs, charming sense of humor, fashion sense, and technical prowess on the drums that reeled her in.  But let’s be real here.  Me getting to spend my one life with this beautiful, amazing woman… it’s a miracle of the Lord.

And that’s how I got the girl.

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“getting the girl :: a miraculous valentines day tale” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

I’m so grateful to God for my life and breath, I don’t have the words to express it.

Every heartbeat is a gift to me. Literally. My five rambunctious boys bring me such deep joy – they are above my expectations in every way, and I love them and am proud of them to the moon and back.  I have the deep privilege of studying God’s word and the care of His Church in Seminary this year – an incalculable gift.  I enjoy the blessings of the love of my parents and in-laws, siblings, friends, and an unshakeable sense that God cares for me.

How can I not shout my thank you’s to God all day?

And on top of my every need being met, and my redemption as a Son, God saw fit to grant me a bride for my one time on this earth who is at the very top of my thank you list.  My favorite person ever. God the artist was showing off when He made Amy.

Now in my first year of Greek language study, my once razor-sharp grammar skillz (yes, with a “z”… I was THAT good) have proven to be JUUUUUST a wee bit rusty.  It has been 22 years, after all, since my last real grammar challenge.  Of course, the aforementioned crown jewel of my thank-you-God list was a 15 year 5th grade grammar teaching machine, so I avoid head to head grammar challenges with my wife to much the same degree I avoid rabid badgers, the Wiggles, or Ethiopian food.

And then today… on the eve of my favorite holiday of the year… I found what may be the Grand Mack Daddy of all run-on sentences. With a tip of the cap to my grammar champion wife, my fellow grammar-chewing Greek student Seminarian compatriots, and all those (like my eldest son and my travel-stained Literature teaching brother-in-law) who find words to be both an ocean in which to dive deep and a playground in which to frolic, I give you this timely and wonderful example sentence structure run amok…

The First Official Presidential Proclamation in U. S. History

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me to “recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”

 

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us;

 

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.
 

Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3rd day of October, A.D. 1789.       – G. Washington

 

THIS is why.  God bless you and your family, and I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

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“why thanksgiving…  the MOTHER of all run-on sentences” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

I was sitting here with my Lucky Charms. 11:07PM.  Just between an assignment and studying for a Greek quiz in the morning.  Study break.

Then I watched this video. I will literally never forget what I feel right now.  My mind has been changed.  Probably my life.  Do you have 9 minutes?

First of all, I’m guilty. I have read John 12:8 and always thought it to be kind of a hopeless proclamation of ongoing poverty.  I’m done with that.  Jesus, forgive me.

Secondly, I love prompting ideas and discussion.  I love encouraging people to worship God because of His worthiness and beauty and mind-wrecking love for us.  But I don’t like to get on this soapbox and scold. Can you bare with me today?  Know that I speak this in love, and I’m preaching to myself, but it has to be said.

You and me… church people… we have let people die because of our indifference. It’s time to change your mind about the poor.  Especially in this awesome, God-blessed country, where even in the toughest of times, we are surrounded by abundance.  We can do this, Church, because God has given us EVERY RESOURCE needed to share our wealth and the love of Jesus with the world.  The whole world.

Sell stuff.  You’ve got more than you need.

Thirdly, I know that we don’t earn favor with God by doing more.  I know that our hope is built upon the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross, and Him risen again.  Grace alone, through faith in Jesus alone…  That is the beginning and end of our hope.  Don’t point a “works-righteousness” finger unless you’re convinced this challenge is somehow corrupting the gospel.  Because it’s not.  Serving the poor does not secure our favor with God, but it MUST be a result of it.  “Faith without works is dead.”

I Timothy 2:14 has this to say:  “Our great God and Savior Jesus Christ…  gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”

Zealous? I haven’t been that word.  I’ve been lazy, overwhelmed and faithless.  I’ve been passive about people in extreme poverty.  Passive. What’s wrong with me?  Well, today I’m taking the NEXT verse in Titus seriously…

“Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.”

So I’m on this soapbox.  Exhorting you, and maybe rebuking those who need it.  We must not remain passive. Let’s go Church!  Let’s break the bondage of extreme poverty – across the globe – in our generation.

If you wan to join forces with 58:,the organization that produced this video, click here to choose your fast.

But it doesn’t matter which organization we align with to fight poverty.  What matters is that we actually do it.

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“our passivity is killing people :: i’ll never forget this” 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.

There is a team of artist-historians called StoryCorps who are recording and illuminating the stories of everyday real people.

This is the story of Danny and Alice.  Danny is dying.

I have three thoughts:

(1)  I love my Amy.  I love her.

(2)  Everybody, everybody, everybody dies some day.

(3)  I Thessalonians 4:13-14 >> “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.  For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died.”

    

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“danny loves annie :: danny is dying :: hope stronger than wishes” 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.

I have a friend whom I love.  He is a mirror.  When he creates art, it’s like he’s holding up a big mirror toward heaven at just the right angle, so when I look at his art, I just see God loving me in the reflecting part.

Jeremy Erickson  ::  Dakota Skies

To know Jeremy more deeply, visit JeremyErickson.com.  And you do want to know Jeremy more deeply.  His life/art/story/faith/God will make your life more beautiful.

Thanks Jer, for letting me post this here.  The honor is mine, brother.

    

 

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“dakota skies :: jeremy erickson, art, and mirrors” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

It seems every Hollywood movie marketed to main stream adults these days has one thing in common…  a bed-room scene.

I’m talking about that poignant moment in every film when the tension in the plot line is cut, and heart-strings are pulled, and we begin to truly empathize on an emotional level with our protagonist.  They tuck their children into bed.  Hollywood understands that for us to emotionally invest in their story line, we must identify with the characters.  Find a shared experience to anchor and emotionally connect millions of viewers.  And for those of us with children, who doesn’t agree that our little people’s cuteness goes up exponentially as their drowsiness increases?  It’s a universal moment.

This morning Pastor James MacDonald tweeted the following question…

First I thought about floating in Big Bass Lake, north of Bemidji, MN, off of my parent’s dock.  I remembered watching a line of pelicans fly above the Atlantic beach at sunset in Hilton Head, SC.  And that thunderstorm over the dark ocean water.  I thought about laying on my back and falling upward into the starscape above me.  But then I remembered my very latest truly “breathless wonder” moment.

Tucking in my very, very sleepy six-year-olds.  Praying over each one out loud in their beds as their breathing got deeper.  Slower.  The cross-eyed, half-smile I got from Levi as he croaked out “I love you Daddy.”  Little Josh couldn’t even talk anymore.  His rumpled hair stuck out just perfectly, awkwardly, perfect.  I stood there studying them both for minutes in the quiet half light.  Fine features, and tiny blood vessles, and eyelashes, and breath.  Watching how they found peace.  Seeing their trust in me play out real-life.  Comforted.  And my heart filled to the top and ran down my face.

I often say “God’s a genius.”  But this moment we parents share is further proof.  God knows how vulnerable and beautiful these little growing bodies would be when they need a dad so clearly.  Later, when they are older, and stronger, and have learned to depend on another Father, their sleepy, scruff-haired selves may not elicit the same “smack me in the face” emotion.  But this deep well of zealous protective love I feel teaches me about God’s love for me.  And for them.  And about my position as HIS adopted son.  I’m still and will always be dependant on Him for protection, provision, direction.  Loved more than my small mind can know.

That’s my  breathless wonder moment in awe at God’s creation.  My sleepyhead boys.  What’s yours?

white space right here…

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“sleepyheads :: smacked in the face again” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

why god made moms

August 9, 2010

May 9, 2010.  Living Hope Church in St. Michael-Albertville, MN.  This was our Mother’s Day message, but let’s be honest…  Moms deserve this kind of encouragement every week.  Am I right, or am I right?  Moms, we love you.  God knew we needed you, and His perfect design had you in mind.  I hope this message fills you with encouragement and a deep sense that you are loved and appreciated.  Thank you God, for our moms!

Click on the tab below to stream the audio. 

[audio:http://www.jskogerboe.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/05-09-10_Why_God_Made_Moms.mp3|titles=05-09-10_Why_God_Made_Moms]

space 

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“why god made moms” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.