This is a very unique time of life. Nine weeks from now I will graduate from the Association Free Lutheran Theological Seminary. If God wills it, I will soon be serving a congregation as a pastor, but today we don’t know where. Nine weeks. These seasons in the in-between are formative. They stir deep thoughts, and honest prayers in us. I’m examining what kind of pastor I hope to be. How God has wired me to serve Him.
These are my top five pastor non-negotiables:
1. I will delight in God. My ONE THING.
No matter what, I must fufill this purpose. God made me to delight in Him, to find my joy and my peace in Him. To honor Him in all things. To seek refuge in Him. To lean into His strength. To claim sonship in Him through the blood of Jesus, shed for me. And to fear Him. And love Him. Whether or not I ever pastor a church, I will delight in God. David wrote about this in Psalm 27:4. His ONE THING was close communion with God, and he wanted it forever. If I don’t live in close communion with Him, I can’t pastor. Ministry is overflow. Ministry is love, and I can’t generate that by sheer willpower. I won’t fake it. So this is first.
2. I will be the husband and dad my family needs.
Amy and the boys need me to be a husband and a dad. I will honor them, lead them well, and protect our relationships above all others. With God’s help, I will live in the tension between the needs of ministry and the needs of family with peace and freedom and joy. If my family is a wreck, my heart will be, too. So this is second.
3. I will speak the truth in love.
Preaching and teaching the Word of God. All of it. That is the life-blood of the Church. The hard words that convict, and the jaw-dropping promise of mercy and forgiveness and FREEDOM found in Jesus alone. I believe the Bible is absolutely TRUE, and inspired by God, and it lives and speaks to hearts right now, today. It is the voice of God, and it saves souls. My primary ministry priority in any congregation will be speaking the truth of God’s Word in the depth of love that He has for all who hear it. And He is shaping me; I am loving this call to PREACH and teach now more than EVER. So this is third.
4. I will love people.
God loves people. When Jesus spoke about the most important commandments, he said LOVE GOD and LOVE PEOPLE. This is the boiled-down, nut-shell, laser-beam focal point of our life’s calling as followers of Jesus. So whether or not I am ever a pastor, God asks me (and equips me) to love people. Especially then, as a pastor. How awesome is this? My job is to LOVE people. And especially those who are hard to love. And those who need it most. I can’t believe I get to do this with my life. So this is fourth.
5. I will build relationships. For years I have said “Ministry is RELATIONSHIP.” Disciple-making means proclaiming the truth of the Gospel, so that those who believe it will enter into restored relationship with God through faith in Jesus. That’s first. But we are also called to be relationship-builders with people. Both within the local church (doing life together!) and within our communities, familes, circles of influence. Anywhere we bump into PEOPLE, we are relationship-builders. Because real relationship opens doors. It reflects the love of God, and it allows for the kind of honest conversations that lead to sharing our God-story. As a pastor, I will teach, lead, and model the high priority of intentional relationships. So this is fifth.
There are a thousand ways I am willing to be flexible as a pastor someday. Someday soon, we hope! But these five I go to the mat for. These five are priority. My first things.
THIS POST IS AN ANNOUNCEMENT of changes to my blog and a new direction for the season ahead. Here’s the plan:
(1) SERMONS — I now will be posting all of my recent messages under the “Teaching” tab above. You can always find my latest audio and video teaching and preaching content from now on at < jskogerboe.com/sermons >
(2) WRITING — I miss it. I am ready to reengage my blog again, as time permits and as inspiration and the Spirit so move. Thank to my friends for the encouragement.
(3) BLOG LAYOUT — In order to de-clutter my written thoughts from my spoken ones, I am going to experiment here with keeping them somewhat separate from one another. Therefore, my preaching posts won’t show up on my homepage. Only my blog posts will be found there. Likewise, under the “Teaching” tab (or at jskogerboe.com/sermons) you will only find my stream of recent messages.
It is a work in progress. Take a look around, kick the tires. I love hearing from you friends. Let’s reconnect this community.
Jesus fields a question about what happens to people when they die. It’s a theology question. About other people. Jesus’ answer burns away the arm’s-length safety of the question and reframes it in a way we can’t ignore. Instead of answering “How many will go to heaven when they die?” Jesus requires each of us to ask, “Will I go to heaven when I die?”
Everybody dies. The door to heaven is narrow. We all live on in eternity, but not everyone will be in heaven with God, enjoying His favor forever. If you hope to make it into the Kingdom of God – through the narrow door – you must enter alone before God. We come one at a time.
What about you? Here is the GOOD NEWS. There is a Door. And it’s still open. Right now.
>> This message is found in Luke 13:22-30. You can read it online here.
This July, 1,800+ souls gathered together for a week of worship and Bible study and relational bonding at the YMCA of the Rockies camp up in the mountains of Estes Park, CO. This was FLY 2013, the Association of Free Lutheran Congregations Youth Convention, held every two years. My wife Amy and I were grateful to be asked to speak this year on July 4, for the Thursday evening services. As I spoke to the men and boys in the Longhouse, Amy had an opportunity to speak to the girls in the Assembly Hall just up the hill. The theme of the convention was “Broken,” taken from Isaiah 53. The text we focused on for the evening was Isaiah 53:10-12.
Is this it? People struggle to find their groove with Jesus, I think. I mean, everyone has to decide what to do with the man who claimed to be the Son of God, and the Savior of the world, and the ONLY WAY to find peace with God. Everyone decides. Many ignore Him. Some fight Him. Church people analyze and study Him, and many people, both inside and outside the church, try to follow His loving example – the WAY of the Lord, without the “Lord” part. Do you agree with the majority of people in America that what really matters when it comes to Jesus isn’t Jesus Himself, so much, but the example he set and the lifestyle of grace and selfless service that he calls us to?
>> I encourage you to read the short account first in Luke 7:36-50. You can read it online here.
My dad has my back. I don’t want to disappoint him. I love spending time with him, because I know that he loves me. We’ve got a good relationship, and that has been formative in my life. I’m literally not the same person I would be without him loving me the way that he does. In some ways, our relationship with God is like this. That’s why he invites us to call Him “Father.”
Far from the remote, disinterested God-idea many people struggle with, and a far cry from the buzz-kill God of to-do lists and do-nots, the Bible describes a God who INITIATES. A God who loves first. A God who created us to be RELATIONAL beings, just as He is a RELATIONAL God. God wants us to live in close relationship with him through His Word. … …
“A Relational People for a Relational God” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
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.
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.
Should the culture around our church influence the culture inside our church? And if so, how much is too much?
The late, great Robert E. Webber, in his book Ancient-Future Worship, says the following:
Anyone who travels and visits churches will see that “program,” “theme,” and “creative” are the most dominant words of worship planning that force leaders toward designing culturally driven worship. My concern is that culturally driven worship will nurture a culturally formed spiritual life.
Whoa doggie. That right there is loaded. I agree with Robert Webber.And I don’t. Let me es’splain…
Culturally driven worship? What does that mean?
This reminds me of the false dichotomy that has often been leveled against “seeker sensitive” churches that are simply trying to remove unnecessary “churchy” barriers for people who don’t usually attend church. Calling those churches “seeker-driven” ministries insinuates that thinking about how an outsider might feel coming into church equates to making the comfort and retention of the non-church-goer the HIGHEST priority. Perhaps Dr. Webber intended to word this as strongly as he did, but I think describing the approach of most contemporary evangelical churches as “culturally sensitive” worship may be closer to the mark.
While I wouldn’t ever condone a ministry model that put people-pleasing above Biblical truth, I think the criticism of “seeker-sensitivity” often is unfair and counterproductive. In its truest sense, I believe EVERY SINGE CHURCH should be “seeker-sensitive,” or in Webberian terminology, “culturally sensitive,” to the degree that we make our churches a place that welcomes sinners to hear the whole truth of God’s Word. (1) God loves us and He created us to enjoy relationship with Him. (2) Our sin has broken that relationship and we deserve eternal punishment and separation from Him. (3) Jesus died on the cross to pay our penalty so that we could enjoy that redeemed relationship with God He created us for in the first place. And (4) He’s coming again in victory to judge all of mankind and establish a new heaven and a new earth. All to His glory.
I want people – anybody – who is willing to walk through the doors of our church to hear that message. I don’t want unnecessary churchiness to shot block the Gospel. I’ll encourage every church I serve to be unashamedly “culturally sensitive…” But that isn’t what Webber is warning us of. He’s warning of a worship ministry model that is “culturally driven.”
Dr. Webber says that a focus on program (service planning), theme (communication strategy) and creativity (artistic storytelling and response) will inevitably lead to “culturally driven worship.” And that in turn, our worship services/experiences will inevitably lead to a “culturally driven spiritual life.”
Robert Webber is wise. There is great danger in letting the culture drive worship service planning (i.e. “programming”) to the degree that we out-plan the Holy Spirit or creatively mask the simple and pure teaching of the Word of God with creative storytelling and culturally relevant analogies.
To that degree, I agree with Dr. Webber. It is possible for contemporary churches to reflect our culture to the degree that there is hardly any difference between a “church event” and any given Thursday night at Buffalo Wild Wings. Maybe less swearing…
If the contemporary church leans into contemporary communication models and reflects cultural trends totheneglect of clear preaching of the Word of God and the traditional pillars of the local church (prayer, confession of sin, confession of faith, reverence, etc.), people’s spiritual lives WILL be shaped in the image of the culture, where religion is personal and relative, compartmentalized, comfortable.
Not with a fox… One example: Some contemporary ministries seem to have been called to reach out to the “hot young and trendy” mission field. Sunday morning and evening worship events are led by Ambercrombie and Fitch. And I understand that the 20-something hottiesneed to hear the Gospel, too, so we ought to present a foxy female vocalist and guitar playing Zac Efron with skinny jeans to reach them. Makes sense. But what if someone came in to our church dirty, broken and smelling bad? How quick would we be – any of us – to befriend them and warmly welcome them to come again… or to come over for dinner? Culture is about image. The Church is about love.
Not wearing sox… I remember the day one of my great friends and fellow worship team members came to the evening service at our national youth convention to play guitar wearing a t-shirt sporting the old-timey image of a service attendant holding a fuel spout with a smile and a dialogue bubble proudly displaying the words, “I’ve got gas!” While his choice of apparel certainly reflected the Junior High culture we were steeped in that week, it was perhaps not the best choice to promote the deep reverence we hoped to model as we led the students into the throne room of the King of Angels. My point has little to do with fashion. It’s about reverence. Depending on your culture, worship leading in shorts, flip-flops and print T’s may fit like a glove. But remember that what we do is a high and holy calling. We usher the local body of Christ into His presence, to be transformed by the renewing of their mind, and to interact with the Holy Spirit and the Holy Word. Too many casual references to pop culture, edgy jokes, coarse language (and yes, some ministries use off-color language to reflect their “authenticity” and “cultural relevance”), movie clips, or fill-in-the-blank can keep people comfortably “stuck” in the cultural paradigm they walked out of when they entered our church. Culture is about looking like we fit in. Church is about becoming set apart.
Not in a box… Some churches are admittedly “variety junkies” when it comes to worship programming. As they run with a theme each week, they pour their best creative juice into the planning bucket and mix it up until something attention-grabbing, something arresting, something MEMORABLE rises to the top. I’ll admit… I love it. In my perfect ministry world, I would forever work with a team of creative programmers who would craft memorable, God-honoring worship-inspiring moments that teach God’s truth and allow room for the church to respond. This leaves a congregation with a “what will church be like THIS week?” intrigue, and if it is handled well – and led by the Spirit – this can help keep people from “rote religious hoop jumping.”
The down-side, or danger, of a free-flowing “out of the box” worship planning paradigm is that congregations lose the many benefits of liturgy and the life-grounding repetition of the truth communicated through the corporate worship structure. Important traditional elements of the service, such as corporate confession of faith or time for personal confession, can get lost in the creative flow. Variety for entertainment’s sake has limited value. We mustn’t sacrifice age-old core functions of God’s church in our thirst to do something new. Culture is all about variety for the sake of entertainment. When the Church embraces variety, it must be for the sake of more potent communication (or celebration) of God’s truth.
So should I worry that so many churches want to program their services creatively around a theme… or not?
Again, I agree with Robert Webber… and I don’t. Look at his quote again. In his estimation, the words “programming,” “theme,” and “creative” were the most dominant words in worship planning for many churches. In a ministry where that is truly the case, I may agree with him. There is danger in that ministry stepping past cultural sensitivity into culture-driven worship models… and that does run the grave danger of promoting spiritual life shaped more by cultural norms than by the transforming power of the counter-cultural Word of God.
Perhaps the most dominant words shaping our local church worship experiences ought to be JESUS, love, sin, forgiveness, brokenness, healing, wrath, grace, truth, and surrender. It is the SUBSTANCE of our worship that must be dominant, not the METHOD. It is the essence, not the form.
However, this is a babies and bathwater situation. I plead with the Church to THINK as they program services. To communicate truth with a thought-through focus that will resonate after the benediction. To unleash their deepest and most beautiful creative efforts to speak the truth and celebrate the story of God.
Let’s look at the culture, but not look like it. Let’s invite the culture in and redeem it. Let’s creatively program services around a theme in a culturally sensitive paradigm that is driven not by cultural trends, but by the call of Jesus to go and make disciples… led by the Word and the Spirit.
I couldn’t breathe. I just sat in the pew next to her with my jaw clenched. There were eternal consequences here, I thought. I couldn’t belive this was happening. I could feel her retreating from the church – retreating from Jesus.
He was a potential candidate for the now vacant Senior Pastor position in the church where I served as the Worship and Arts director. He was being seriously considered for a call, and this was his day to preach.
She was a relative of a relative. Visiting our church. She NEVER went to church. But this was her day. Prayers, the Spirit, and circumstance brought her here. Could have been the most important day in her life, and she didn’t even know it. She was wounded, hurting, lost. She needed Jesus. She needed “Come to me, all who are weary…”
He was a jerk.
It is one thing to preach the Law in all of it’s sterness to awaken the souls of the complacent and pierce the hearts of the defiant IN ORDER THAT they might receive the life-giving Gospel truth: Jesus has already paid our penalty, we have hope, it is finished. It is another thing to revel in the preaching of the Law. To wield it like a clumsy weapon, clubbing the saints and the searching alike. As if guilt were a better indicator of healthy spiritual life than love.
I realized early in the message she would never come here again. Truth be told, I had decided early in the message that if he took the call, I would not come here again, either. But now I felt hope slipping away and angry walls being built, brick by brick. He was railing. Railing against those who would defile their body with tattoos. Spit in the face of God by piercing their bodies, His temple. Those who would wear their sin proudly like a badge of honor in their dark clothing and Doc Martin boots and heavy eye make-up. How shameful they were. How disgusting their vanity and rebellion must look to God.
She shifted uncomfortably, uncrossing her legs to lower her Doc Martins under the pew. Her plaid flannel sleeves weren’t long enough to cover the ink spilling down her forearm and onto her wrist. She was ashamed. Then she was angry. Then she was gone.
I have never – NEVER – forgotten the lesson of that day, but I’ve never written about it. Here I am in a Lutheran Seminary, learning how to divide all of scripture into two distinct categories: LAW and GOSPEL. God has given us the Law to kill our self-reliance and to point us to the cross. And as a fifth (sixth… more than that?) generation Lutheran, I’ve been taught that the Gospel without the Law is cheap grace. People need to be confronted with their sin before they are ready to receive the Gospel. True conversion involves repentance. We die to self before we are reborn.
That “but” has big implications. I have feared pushing against centuries of Lutheran orthodoxy and thousands of Spirit-led theologians who would warn me that in this regard, there are no “buts.” Law, then Gospel. LAW, then Gospel.
Sometimes, people already know they are broken. Sometimes, people are aware that they don’t measure up. Sometimes people come to church expecting God to view them the way this clumsy, angry, mean-spirited preacher viewed them. And to them Jesus says, “Come…”
Why is this? It is because He created us to be in a relationship with Himself, for His glory and our enjoyment. It is not unholy or selfish to seek to enjoy God. He crafted us with a longing to be satisfied. And NOTHING satisfies like the enjoyment of God Himself. As we express that enjoyment in worship, thanksgiving, service, obedience, and praise, God gets glory. And the two great longings in the universe are simultaneously met. Man hungers to be satisfied, God desires to be glorified. And God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.
So I look at the great God-story of the Bible. And I see how it all points to Jesus. And I believe it is the GREATEST truth in all of time – and that people everywhere need to hear it. And I look at the beginning of the story. And I see God there, “In the beginning…” And I see the beginning of man. And I notice something important…
Adam was created in God’s image, bearing His likeness in a personality and a desire for relationship… and God said it was very good. They walked together in the garden and had face-to-face relationship. It was very good. And this is the relationship mankind was created to have with God. This was God’s intent from the start, and it is His desire now.
And all of this is solidified before Genesis chapter 3.
Why is it we start out as preachers and street evangelists, wielding our bullhorns and pointing our fingers from the pulpits, and we start at Genesis chapter 3?
“She took of its fruit and ate, and she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.”
It is true. Because of that day, and because of all of the days between then and now that man has spent serving himself instead of our gracious creator God, everybody takes their first breath on earth as a sinner. Disconnected from that “walk in the Garden… and it was very good” relationship. We are hopelessly broken and unable to make our way back to God. And that is why Jesus’ death on the cross is the centerpoint of history. And that is why people need Jesus – to be rescued from themselves. And that is why well-meaning evangelicals swing their clubs of condemnation. They want people who don’t even realize they need saving to be saved. So the Law must do its heart-breaking work. To break up the hard-packed earth of the hearts of men, so that the Gospel seed might take root and grow and bear much fruit.
Sometimes people are broken and they know it already. Must we always skip over the first two chapters of Genesis? Must it always be LAW, then Gospel?
The message I have heard for so many years often sounds like this… (1) You are a sinner. Your sin is ugly, and it separates you from God. There is nothing you can do to avoid eternal judgment. You are condemned by your sin. (2) Jesus came to pay the price for that sin. On the cross, your sin was crucified with Him. When he rose from the dead, He announced once and for all that forgiveness has triumphed. Because of Jesus, we are forgiven, and we can be with Him in heaven forever.
You know what? This isn’t the whole story. I submit that when we LEAD with the LAW, we beat up already wounded souls. Not every time. But often. Way too often. I propose proclaiming a message, over a lifetime of biblical preaching, that looks more like this:
(1) God loves you. He created you for a purpose. God is zealously pursuing a relationship with you, and He will rejoice over you when you turn to Him. This is what we are here for. To enjoy the love of God. God is a pursuing God, and you are made in His image. He wants to restore you to your created purpose.
(2) Sin mucked it all up. God is Holy and can’t be around sin. He is righteousness, and He cannot tolerate sin. Therefore, your sin separates you from Him, and nothing you can do can change that. You will never be “good enough” for God.
(3) In light of Genesis 1 & 2 – in light of your created purpose – God made a way to redeem your soul. Jesus death on the cross was payment for your sin. Repent of your selfishness and self-reliance. God has been pursuing you because He longs to be in relationship with you. Jesus is the answer. There is hope for even you.
Evangelicals will face judgment for the souls they have driven away from God with their clumsy handling of the Law.
Yes, the proud need to be broken. But not by us. By the truth of the Word and the work of the Holy Spirit. And not all who hear us preach believe they don’t need God in their life. Some come to hear because they simply have no idea how to find Him. Some come to hear because they already consider themselves a screw-up. Those people need to hear Jesus call, “Come, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest…” And they need to know God is pursuing them.
Some of you are clenching your jaw right now. You feel this is dangerous ground, and that I stand at the precipice of a slippery slope. We cannot soften the full weight of the Law. We cannot compromise. We cannot settle for “gospel-light” just because it’s what people want to hear.
I submit that your uncomfortability may come from the evangelical culture you have been steeped in. What I am saying is rooted in scripture. God created us as deeply valued sons, born with a purpose first. THEN sin broke the ideal. First God created and it was very good. THEN sin separated us from Him. Some people will reject God because the church FIRST reflects His judgment rather than His love. I believe more souls will be willing to hear the truth of their sin and their need for Jesus if they FIRST hear the truth that God loves them, considers them deeply valuable, and that he is pursuing a restored relationship with them out of his zealous love for us.
It’s not all about us. It’s about Him. And when more souls are saved, and more hearts are set free and restored to their created purpose, God receives more glory. He loved first. It has been this way since Genesis 1 and 2. Not just since the 3rd chapter, when we stood condemned by our sin.
So back to that day in the church pew, with my jaw clenched, and the tat-covered, lip-pierced girl sitting next to me…
I wonder what would have happened that day if the message surprised her, instead of confirming her suspicions. “Yep, I am rotten. Yep, the church is all about making sure I know that. Yep, I thought this would be uncomfortable. No way am I coming back to hear this stuff again.”
What would have happened if she would have heard how valuable she is to God? That there is hope for her, and that she has been created by a God who knows her personally with all of her failings and rebellion, and still pursues her.
Tomorrow (Friday, May 13), a number of Christians on Twitter will be using the hashtag #4Giveness to connect with those outside of the church who have been pushed away from God by His people. If this post resonnates with you, read this from my friend Chris Goforth, and join us tomorrow.
Too often the people of God have beaten people up with the Law as if WE don’t need it anymore, and it is meant to be applied as judgment to the sinners “out there.” Too often we have stiff-armed people, making the gospel difficult to reach by way of a long trail of guilt and shame. Jesus says “Come…” It is simple. It is very good.
It is time to tell people that God is loving God who is pursuing them.