Archives For preaching

“What?  Shut up!”

Needless to say this seemed totally inappropriate.  I wasn’t even talking to her.

“I am not!  You always do this.  Get out of my…  No.  YOU are the one who…  No.”

I just want to get through this grocery line, man.  Buy my bananas and loaf of bread and diet tonic water. I just want to get through the day without arguing with a crazy stranger.  It’s kind of a goal.

“Stop it!  Stop it!”

She’s not looking at me.  She’s looking glassy-eyed straight ahead.  This is at first a relief.  Then it only ratchets up the weirdness.  She’s not talking to me… but there’s no one else around… so…

“This conversation is over.  I’m hanging up.  Goodbye!”

*facepalm*  BLUETOOTH. Couldn’t see the tiny receiver tucked into her ear under her hair.  I don’t like it, man.  The world is full of people talking to themselves, and it’s getting harder to tell who hears little voices in their ear because of technology and who hears voices because they’re a few pickles short of a jar.  I’d like to propose that bluetooth earpieces come with a little stick that extends over your head with a small, tasteful bright orange flag flying, so as to alert the world that you are hip, not simply nuts.

So we’ve established that there is “bad” talking to yourself.  If you’ve ever been around true (as in, non-bluetooth enabled) talking to yourself, we can agree… it’s unnerving.

But there is another kind of talking to yourself that I am sold-out for, passionate about.  It’s the kind of crazy we need MORE of in our churches. Last month I wrote two posts on sermon preparation (here and here).  One of my friends left a comment and shared this quote from John Calvin:

“If the preacher is not first preaching to himself, better that he falls on the steps of the pulpit and breaks his neck than preaches that sermon.”

Amen!  I mean, as it applies to me. I wish no ill to befall my fellow pastors trying to serve their congregations with fresh insights from the Word of God week after week.  I mean no harm to the Sunday School teachers who wrestle their gaggle of 13 fourth graders to attention each Sunday morning.  In no way do I want injury to befall the bazillions of small group leaders who are trying to lead Bible studies week to week with no formal training, wondering if they are qualified to serve but gladly doing it anyway because they love Jesus.

I am you. All of you who handle the Word of God and try to share it’s power and insight with other people.  So I’m writing as a fellow crazy person, believing that somehow God can use me and my limited intellect and wavering allegiance to teach His people.  It’s crazy, because, who am I to be a leader, a teacher, an example?  I’m a broken mess.

And therein lies the mystery and the genius of God’s Church. His Word is alive, and it speaks today.  His Spirit is the true teacher. We human preachers and teachers and Bible study leaders…  we’re just His servants, serving other servants.  Not higher than.  Not holier than.  Side by side.  All sinners in need of grace and all being reformed into Christ’s image for the sake of God’s reputation, not ous.

So as a fellow servant… who happens to teach the Bible some times… I want to let you know something about me.

I talk to myself.

I’m a rookie preacher, you know.  A first year of Seminary under my belt in the next couple weeks.  So as a preacher, I’m got a lot of learning to do.  We all know the difference between a preacher who seems to be “up there,” just doing his own thing, and those preachers who are talking right to you.  Like the Bible is piercing through the religious veneer and the “I’m at least as put-together as the guy next to me” front we wear to church, and messing with our heart itself.  I only have one life, after all, and it’s already half spent.  I don’t want to waste a minute giving random religious self help talks, or even disconnected exegetical Bible lessons that fail to pierce the fog between the pulpit and the pew.

I’m praying the the voice of God and the nearness of His Spirit are unmistakable when I preach.  And that’s crazy. I’m nobody.  But God uses nobodies all the time.

Maybe it’s because the “have-it-all-together” crowd doesn’t feel that reckless desperation for God to be behind the wheel.  I don’t know.  But I do know that God has tons of refining work to do in me.  And the times, it seems, when my teaching makes the deepest impact or resonates with the greatest connection between my notes and the people facing me are the times when what I am teaching has grown out of a deep realization that God is working this truth out in ME.  When His Word has broken through my walls and reached my inner self and shined the light on my dark corners… then I am ready to teach.  When God has spoken to me, then I’m ready to speak to my fellow servants.

So if you’re me… a fellow teacher in the Kingdom, trying to rightly handle the Word of God and realizing how daunting that responsibility is, rember this:

It IS as crazy as you think it is that God would speak the truth of His Word through cracked pots like you and me.  Lunatic fringe crazy.  But that’s part of the genius of His plan.  He knows that we’re a mess, and that leaves lots of room to teach us about His character and power and grace.

Don’t spend this one life you have making religious speeches.  Get into the Word where God can break our heart and make it soar.  Be moved and changed… and THEN teach.  Not before. The church needs more preachers and teachers and Bible Study leaders who think it’s crazy that God would use them.  That crazy keeps us desperate.  And His power is made perfect in weakness, not in self-reliance.  That’s why when I get get up in that pool of light in front of my friends and fellow servants, notes in one hand and Bible in the other, I pray and pray and I remember that I’m not up here simply to talk the talk in their direction…

I’m talking to myself.


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“i talk to myself :: keeping the crazy close” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

May 1, 2011. Living Hope Church in St. Michael-Albertville, MN.  This message picks up where we left off last week, Easter morning, with the account of Jesus walking with two of His disciples on the way to Emmaus later that day.  The principle text is Luke 24:13-35.

Core ideas:

(1)  Jesus crucified, buried, and risen again is our only hope of freedom from sin and an abundant life with God.

(2)  Jesus meets us and walks with us in our low places.

(3)  Incomplete understanding and wrong expectations of God lead to discouragement.

(4)  Jesus reveals Himself to us through His Word and in real relationship with us.

(5)  When Jesus’ disciples see Him revealed, the natural response is a burning heart.

You can stream the audio here >>

I concluded the message with a list of just a few of the pictures of Jesus we see in the Old Testament.  I’ve included that list below.

Types of Christ in the Old Testament

Jesus is Adam: firstborn son of God representing all men, with headship over a new creation.

Jesus is Noah: the only righteous one, rescuing all mankind in an ark of wood, pointing to the cross that will save mankind.

Jesus is Abraham: father of all the family of God.

Jesus is Melchizedek: whose name means “King of Justice” the great high priest who intercedes for us before the Father.

Jesus is Isaac: long-awaited promised only son of Abraham, taken to be sacrificed on the mountaintop.

Jesus is the Ram in the thicket: God’s provision, and the blood sacrifice that took Isaac’s place.

Jesus is Joseph: Hated without a cause, ridiculed, plotted against, stripped of his robe, sold for silver, lied about, placed in captivity with two guilty men, unrecognized by his own people.

Jesus is Moses: the prophet of God and servant leader of Israel.

Jesus is the Pillar of Cloud and the Pillar of Fire: in the midst of His people, leading them out of slavery.

Jesus is Joshua: the victorious warrior, leading His people into the Promised Land.

Jesus is David: Reigning on the throne of Israel, born in Bethlehem, a prophet and a king, returning to reign in Jerusalem gaining victory over his enemies in the name of God.

Jesus is Solomon: son of David, ruling in wisdom.

Jesus is Jonah in the belly of a whale: swallowed by death for three days before his resurrection.

Jesus is Jeremiah: a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.

Jesus is Daniel: accepted by the Father, silent before the lions.

Jesus is Nehemiah: passionate about the Holy City and the reputation of God.

Jesus is the Dove: sacrificed as a sin offering on the altar in the Tabernacle.

Jesus is the Eagle: carrying Israel safely to God’s presence in Exodus 19.

Jesus is the Lion in Hosea roaring in victory, and the Lion of Judah in Revelation, victorious champion of heaven.

Jesus is the Sheep without blemish: sacrificed in Leviticus.

Jesus is the Lamb led to slaughter: silent before its shearers in Isaiah.

Jesus is the Scapegoat in Leviticus 16: sent away bearing the sins of the people so that they will not bear it anymore.

Jesus became sin for us as the serpent – the symbol of sin and death – lifted up on a pole in the midst of a tormented people, that all who look to him will be saved from death.

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”  ( John 3:14)

Jesus is the garments of skin for Adam and Eve: given by God, covering our shame.

Jesus is our sacrifice on the Day of Atonement.

Jesus is Manna in the wilderness: God’s provision, the Bread of Life.

Jesus is our passage through the Red Sea: our escape route from slavery to sin, and our entrance to the Promised Land.

Jesus is the burnt offering, which points to Christ’s willingly offering himself.

Jesus is the meal offering, which points to his purity and sinlessness.

Jesus is the peace offering, which points to his accomplishments on the cross.

Jesus is the sin offering, which points to his dealing with sin’s guilt.

Jesus is the trespass offering, which points to his dealing with sin’s injury.

Jesus is the Passover Feast, which points to Calvary.

Jesus is the Firstborn son, who belonged to God and died in all the homes of Egypt because of their sin

Jesus is the blood on the doorposts of Israel: a covering and a protection, proclaiming our debt paid and our belonging to God as His chosen people.

Jesus is the Passover Lamb who was slain: whose blood paid the price for my sin, and for your sin.

Jesus is the rebuilding of the temple in three days.

Jesus is the indwelling Presence of God in the new temple, His Church.

He is JESUS CHRIST, the LAMB of GOD, the KING of KINGS, the Kinsman Redeemer, the Champion of God, the Lord of Hosts, and the Resurrected Savior.


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“burning hearts inside us” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

NOTE: The message artwork above was done by the great team at gracewaymedia.com.  If you are not familiar with their work, I highly recommend them for worship background images and PowerPoint support for messages.  Living Hope Church has been a subscriber for years.

You can’t show someone the gospel with a sandwich…

BAM. Here we go.  I’m stirring the pot. Somewhere out there, one of you is sick of the church giving lip service to love. You read that first line and just winced a little bit. In fact, this is the epitome of the gospel to you… loving people in Jesus name. Feeding the hungry. Hands-on love of the broken and wounded and penniless and hopeless. After all, Jesus talked about the least of these, right? And faith without works is dead, right? And the greatest commandment is “love God,” and we do that best by loving people, RIGHT? You remember this quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary, use words.”

It’s a great line.  Someone out there has written this quote in your journal, and it has changed your life.  The way you think about the Gospel and what you’re here for has been forever changed.  Praise God that you are hungry to serve Him and love people.  I mean that.  So don’t let this dampen the fire of your love…

Francis of Assisi was wrong.

Look at 1 Corinthians 15:1-4.  Paul reminds us (because we tend to forget) EXACTLY what the clear, unadulterated Gospel message is… the one Paul would give his life for:  (1) Jesus died for our sins. (2) He was buried. (3) He was raised on the third day.

That’s it. It’s a clear message.  No sandwiches involved.  Love and service are a natural and healthy RESPONSE to the Gospel, but can never be mistaken for the message itself.  Jesus penal substitutionary atonement for our sin, and His victory over death in the Resurrection are the heart of the Gospel.  It is a message that must be PROCLAIMED… it cannot be shown.

You can show His love.  You can show your love for Him.  You can show the world a different way to live, and you can give yourself away in love and service to others.

But you are not sharing the Gospel unless you proclaim it. You’ve got to tell people who Jesus is and what He has done, because THAT is what has the power to save souls.

If we do not proclaim the clear message that our only hope is faith alone by grace alone in Christ alone, then Christ ceases to be our substitutionary atonement and becomes merely our example.  Is it possible that the people we serve will misunderstand the heart of our faith?  That when we sign on to the Christian faith, we are obligated to earn back favor with God?  I see it on bumper stickers and church bulletin boards…  Christ died for you – are you living for Him?  WWJD?  Serve like Jesus.  Love like Jesus.  Live like Jesus.
It is an impossible standard.  Instead we must serve, love, and live BECAUSE of Jesus.
For those of you who are sick of watching hurting people suffer because the Church talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk, I empathize deeply with your holy discontent.  However, we cannot SUBSTITUTE walking the walk for talking the talk.  Maybe we ought to start with the walk… but we must talk, too.
Over the past several years the Emergent conversation has been reexamining Christian faith, and what it means to be a Christ follower… and what it means to be saved.  Somehow definitions that have for centuries been bedrock biblical truths have become mired in conjecture and postmodern equivocation.  Some now see salvation as something we work out and experience here on earth by serving the needy and the poor, caring for others, caring for the environment, etc.
The Emergent redefinition of salvation fundamentally wrecks the Gospel, because it takes away the gift and replaces it with an obligation.  The Gospel through this lens is a transfer from grace received to something we do.  Galatians 5:1 reminds us:
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
I believe we experience salvation here and now, too.  But it is in and through the finished work of Jesus, who died for our sins, was buried, and rose again.  I believe we are called to love and serve the hurting and needy, to be good stewards of the earth, and to give our lives away in Jesus’ name.  But it is all a response.
Because HE loved us, make those sandwiches.  Feed the hungry ones.  But you can’t show someone the Gospel with a sandwich.  Love ’em, and then tell ’em WHY.
Our friend Francis of Assisi was off the mark.
We proclaim the Gospel.
Then we live in light of it.
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“francis of assisi was wrong :: use words” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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

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

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

So what do I mean by walking a tightrope?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In other words, “What is your problem?”

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

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

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

Sermon Preparation Tips

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

(2)  Identify your target.  Believers? Not?

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

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

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

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

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

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

This weekend I ran into Ben, a friend of  mine from the Association Free Lutheran Bible School, which shares a campus with the Seminary where I currently live and study.  He was preparing to preach his first sermon and asked me if I had any pointers in getting prepped.

I had about 3 minutes.

So I grabbed his yellow notebook and shot from the hip.  I’m sure, given unlimited time and an endless supply of warm chocolate chip cookies, I could have done a better job.  This will have to do for now.  Here is the fast, cookie-free version:

(1)  PRAY!  It’s God talking, not you.  :: I think preachers forget sometimes that the Word of God has said enough.  Our job is to preach with the help of the Holy Spirit so that our congregations understand what God is saying to them.  This, then, is not so much an opportunity to support OUR ideas with scripture, but to help make GOD’s ideas understandable and connected to the real life of the people listening.

(2)  Identify your target.  Believers? Not?  :: This is common sense on one level, but is easily forgotten… and the ramifications carry some weight.  Before you can  communicate effectively, you need to know your  audience.  Some passages in scripture speak to the unforgiven.  Some passages challenge, strengthen, or encourage the already convinced.  Some passages speak to both.  Before you preach, figure out what God is calling you to say AND who he is calling you to speak it to.

(3)  Figure out the BIG IDEA of the text (The main thing you think God is saying here in one sentence).  :: A number of teachers whom I admire have said this before: most of the time, you will communicate most clearly by saying one thing well.  When I’m prepping a message, it helps me stay focused and clear to carefully craft my BIG IDEA before I begin writing the message.

(4)  Make sure you are saying what the text says, not using it to prove your own ideas.  :: No explanation needed.

(5)  Think about these three things BEFORE you write it out:

(A)  KNOW =  At the end of your message, what do you want people to know?  It helps me to restate my most important point using, “At the end of the message, I want people to know that ______________________.”

(B)  FEEL =  Yes, Lutherans can feel things.  Have you seen the Vikings fans when Green Bay is in town?  Right.  We can even feel deeply in church without compromising our spiritual integrity.  So I think it is appropriate to think ahead of time about how you expect people will FEEL as you deliver this message.  Encouraged?  Celebratory?  Reflective?

(C)  DO =  As a response to this message, is there something you’re asking them to DO?  It is important to remember that religiously motivated action that isn’t a genuine worship RESPONSE to what God has done for us is simply legalism.  I do think it is appropriate sometimes to suggest a specific responsive action – to ask them to DO something – but we must always make it an option, a suggestion, wrapped in the grace of God and a reminder that we love because He first loved us.

(6)  Make sure you include both LAW (our need for God) and GOSPEL (God’s solution in Jesus) in EVERY message.  :: I know… my Lutheranosity is showing.  This does not mean we have to shoehorn anything into the text.  The Bible always will point us to Jesus.  Cover to cover. The whole Bible points to and helps us understand the centerpiece of all of history: Jesus redemptive sacrifice on the cross as a propitiation for our sins.

There.

Is there something I missed?

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“six sermon prep tips :: how i get ready to preach” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

The Gospel is the seed.  Their heart is the soil.  A congregation openly adoring God with freedom… that’s the heat lamp.

There is a discussion going on in the Church about the “power of worship.”  Some churches staunchly stand on the preaching of the Word of God being the central focal point of every worship service.  Other churches believe that it is often in times of corporate worship when God moves among His people most visibly in supernatural power.  Some churches intentionally pull back from much corporate worship in a setting where evangelism is the goal.  But the idea that worship is isolating or alienating for the unbeliever is being reexamined… and reexamined again.

My good friend Dallas Jenkins (Film-maker, director of Midnight Clear, and more recently, What If) recently produced a video story for Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicago, where Andi Rozier is an Associate Pastor of Worship.  If you’ve got eight minutes, this is a powerful example of worship and the Gospel at work together to change a life. Depending on your theological background, that statement could fall anywhere on the scale from “obviously true” to “dangerously misguided.”  Watch this, and I’ll follow up with a few thoughts…

My thoughts…

(1)  I believe in “Worship Evangelism.” In a nutshell, it is a belief that as unbelievers encounter and experience worshippers of Jesus Christ adoring Him with honesty and freedom, they will see and experience the nearness of God, alive and interacting with His people.  If you really want to flesh this idea out and explore it deeply, I’d encourage you to find and read “Worship Evangelism”(1995) by Sally Morgenthaler.  Although Jesus makes it clear in John 4 that unbelievers aren’t even able to worship God, I fully believe that when God’s people worship, they interact with the Holy Spirit and the truth of the Word, and the beauty of that honest interaction draws unbelievers toward God.

(2)  Worship doesn’t save people. Jesus alone saves people.  And Romans 10:13, 14 and 17 make it clear that salvation comes by hearing the Word of God, which contains the Gospel in all of its power and purity.  So yes, I think God moves in power and interacts with us when we worship Him.  And yes, I believe that being in the midst of a worshipping congregation can move the hearts of unbelievers to want to know more – to look more deeply into the message of God.  But we must not trip over that line… we must not ascribe some supernatural power to the worship experience itself, or we are creating an elevated “theology of worship” that equates our experience with the power and holy authority of the Word of God.

(3)  Life-change takes time. In a discussion with Dallas about this piece, he mentioned something that the Worship Pastor, Andi, said that didn’t end up in the final video.  “We’re about life change, and worship leaders need to remember that it’s not always something that happens over 30 minutes, or 30 days, or 30 months, or even 30 years.”

Great perspective.  God can blow the doors off of someone’s heart in an instant if He so chooses.  But often, people who really, REALLY experience God’s power in a life-changing way are led through a PROCESS, not simply brought to an instant that changes everything.  Process… investment… relationships… and the truth. People are stubborn, and me more than most.  We shouldn’t expect “our ministry” to change a soul in one hour-long moment.  God is the heart-breaker and restorer, and He often chooses to plant the truth like a seed, and over time, allow the truth to take root.

When I lead worship, it is an honor to help that seed along with a little toasty goodness from the heat lamp…

As a Worship Leader, I am quick to say HE is the seed planter, and His Word is the seed carrier, and His Spirit is the seed deliverer.  My job is to give the congregation of believers in our church an opportunity to respond to God with adoration and honest thanksgiving for His love and grace and unchanging character.  Because the Gospel is the seed.  Their heart is the soil.  And I’m just flipping the ON switch…

When you watch Rob’s story, or when you read the ideas presented here, what do you think?

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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 just saw a bumper sticker on a Ford F-150 that read, “YES this is my truck. NO, I won’t help you move.”

That’s how it is, right?  Those of you hybrid-driving, eco-friendly, foreign-car-owning suburbanite friends of mine.  You know EXACTLY what I’m talking about.  It’s getting to be that time.  Almost moving day, and what do you start to think about?  That’s right…  “Who do I know with a TRUCK?”  Let’s face it.  Fahrvergnügen can’t help you move the sofa.

So a couple of years ago I found myself the proud owner of a nice three bedroom rambler in suburban Minneapolis.  One of the reasons we loved the house was the wrap-around deck in the back.  But we had lived in the house for several years, and the deck was showing its age.  A few cracked boards, and a little too much bounce in the corner revealed that some of the frame had been built with untreated wood, and that wood was starting to crumble.  It was one of those projects that I thought would begin and end on a Friday morning with one well-planned run to Home Depot.  Not so much.  As I began to pull out the soft wood, the more problems were revealed, and suddenly I had several pieces of the frame, a set of steps, half a dozen planks, about a third of the railing frame , and almost all of the railing spindles to replace.

At the time I owned a hammer, a worn out drill, one rechargeable electric screwdriver with no working battery, and a jar of miscellaneous small screws and finishing nails.  I was like the anti-Bob Villa.  I mean, don’t get me wrong…  Other than the meager tool set, lack of a modeling career, the international acclaim, and any measurable skill in carpentry, Ty Pennington and I have a lot in common.

Let’s just say I needed back-up.  So I have this friend Brandon.  He’s got a pick up AND an air compressor.  And nail guns.  That’s right.  Plural.  And a sawzall.  And talent.  All things I didn’t have.

So Brandon was the guy to call.  Also significant… he’s one of the greatest guys on the planet.  For roughly the cost of lunch at Arby’s (maybe EXACTLY for the cost of lunch at Arby’s), Brandon basically spent one good Saturday – sun-up to sun-down – tearing apart, re-planning, and reconstructing our deck.  He and I were able to do in one 12 hour period what would have taken me…  I still wouldn’t be done with it.  If it were up to me alone with my hammer and half-baked power drill, circa 1983, my poor family would still be coming in and out the front door, avoiding the sad half-torn-apart reminder of my few non-Ty Pennington-esque qualities that used to be our deck.

Come to think of it, I probably owe Brandon another Medium Roast Beef.  WITH the curly fries this time.

Smash cut to me this morning at 5:04 AM.  I find myself literally groaning out load as I roll out of bed.  I’ve got 2 hours and 56 minutes until my Chapter 20 Greek Quiz.  My nemesis.  My kryptonite.  My poke in the eye.  My bad dream.

Studying Greek at 5:04 in the morning is like whacking yourself in the knee repeatedly with a mallet.  It’s hard.  It hurts.  At least for me.  A couple of the boys in our Sem class seem to feed on Greek like a Sumo wrestler at a sushi bar.  Like well trained athletes, the pain of the process is part of the joy of it for them.  Personally, I have to put my trust in the delayed gratification – the joy set before me, if you will – of being able to wield my Greek knowledge like a Dragon Warrior some day.  But for now, I’m just a lowly inexperienced noodle-serving Panda with a dream, and Greek is my Tai Lung.  It’s pounding on my brain cells.

So why do I do this?  Why get up at the crack of early and take up my knee-whacking mallet and endure the pain of self-inflicted Future Active Indicative Greek Verb Paradigms?

Same reason I bought Brandon a sandwich.  He owns two nail guns, and I do not.

On our first day of class this Fall, Pastor Moan stood in front of our Seminary classroom and spoke about the marathon ahead of us as Greek students.  I remember some of it.  I remember the part about when you’re so tired you can’t see straight, and you want to quit, bang your head against the wall and get back to work.  I remember the part about “if you want to learn Greek, you need to SWEAT.”  I remember, “Building endurance.  Discipline.  Discouragement. Carrying on when you hit the wall.”  And my favorite Pastor  Moan quote from the first day…  “We’ve had a few casualties.  I’ll admit it.”  Nice.

The thing is, when I step out of my last Seminary class and into my life’s calling, I’m not going to be building a deck.  Lord willing, I will be a pastor.  I’m going to be shepherding souls.  It will be my high calling to rightly handle the Word of God, and preach the truth with clarity and in the power of God.  Who am I  to do this?  I’m just a panda with a hammer and a lousy drill.

A Panda who is learning Greek.

Martin Luther said, “In the measure that we love the Gospel, so let us place a strong emphasis on the languages.  For it was not without reason that God wrote the Scriptures in two languages…  Keep hard at the languages, for language is the sheath in which the Sword of the Spirit rests.”

The REASON we do this hard work is that it is a tool for ministry.  And ministry is the goal.  If I want to build a great deck in one day instead of a lousy deck over the course of… years, most likely, I need a decent saw, an air compressor, and a nail gun.  Or two nail guns.  Even better.

If I want to really dig into the Word of God, understand it deeply, and prepare to teach with due diligence, I need to learn Greek.  And then I’ll pray like crazy and trust God can use a clumsy panda like me to preach His Word with the boldness of a Dragon Warrior.  Souls are on the line.

“The modern preacher in his study is a man with his tools.  The man with the best tools, all other things being equal, does the best work.”  -A. T. Robertson

Greek language, look me in the eye.  You are going down.  Ska-Doosh!

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“exploiting that one guy with the pick-up and air comnpressor :: of pandas, powertools, and studying greek” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

After a month and a half of Seminary, I’ve decided…

YES.

I first asked the question the week before I started >> here.

I was intelligently guided by a wise brother >> here.

And today, I’m planting my own flag.  Every time.  For the rest of my life.

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“does every message we preach need to be a clear ‘law and gospel’ presentation? :: part 3 of 3” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Last week, before I was up to my neck in Seminary courses, I asked an honest question…

Does every message we preach have to be a gospel message at its core?

One of the responses I got was so well communicated, I thought it deserved to be dragged out from “comment #27” status and given it’s own place of prominence as a new post.  What you see below is that response from my good friend and pastor Wade Mobley.  He is a great student of the Word, a powerful communicator, and a close friend.  If after reading the post below you want to hear more from Wade, you can find his blog here.  As you can see, we’re both reposting this for our readers.  I think it’s deeply important.  Thanks Wade for your thoughts here and your steady encouragement to me!

From Pastor Wade…

 This is absolutely essential. It is “hermeneutics,” or the right understanding of God’s Word.

Short answer: The Bible is basically about Jesus and what He has done.

Longer answer: You have tension because there is more to the story- the Bible is basically about the Living God (including Who He is and what He has done in the Messiah) and how He interacts with the pinnacle of His creation, man (He didn’t reveal Himself to rocks/trees/animals, but precious, eternal human souls).

Sufficient (I think) answer: Theology (by definition) is a word about God, not a word about man. But theology for the sake of theology is theology misused. God revealed this word about Himself to mankind. In it we see His character, and by contrast our character. We read what God demands (His perfect law obeyed and fulfilled, His character affirmed by our thoughts words and deeds) and what God has done in the Messiah (the substitutionary atonement of Christ).

There are two sides to the truth of the Gospel: Objective and subjective. Objective asks “What happened and did it happen?” Subjective asks “Do I trust in what happened?” Jesus, to Martha, asked similarly in John 11: “I am the resurrection and the life…” (Objective). “Do you believe this?” (Subjective).

The job of a sermon (or your job in your own Bible reading) is to look at the God’s Word objectively and apply it (which is subjective). Note how I am using these terms: Subjective does not mean that truth is defined by the one to whom it is being applied.

Handling God’s Word Objectively:  The pastor/expositor/theologian must first of all be faithful in “handling accurately the Word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15). To do so you must observe the content and interpret it rightly:

Content:  What does God say in His Word? Read it. If you know languages you can dig into terms by definition. But primarily your job is to read it. Use a version of the Bible that is farther to the translation end of the translation/paraphrase spectrum. Read it. Savor it. Enjoy it. Accept it as your authority- the voice of what you will preach. You know you have crossed the line when you are looking for a text to say what you already know you want to teach your congregation. Or praying, “God, please give me a good text to go with that illustration.”

Interpretation:  What does God mean when He says this?  Note: If this doesn’t match what you learned as you looked at the content, you are erring. But now is the time to look at historical settings, and term definitions, etc. Are there promises made? To whom? Why? Have I believed novel interpretations that turn place names into prophetic statements, when all the author really meant was to give a place name? Am I interpreting allegorically when all the author wrote was history? Remember to allow the text to speak- to you and your congregation- louder than the commentators.

Souls are stumbled when we do interpretation in the place of content, much like the serpent in the Garden: “Has God really said?” In our desire to apply the text to the precious eternal human souls in our care, we often rush to application. We want to “be relevant” after all. But you will do well to establish what the text says and means before you apply it. Otherwise you are the clothier who only sells one size of suit; or the carpenter who only has a hammer- so all he sees is nails.

Then you can get subjective:

Application- How does this word of God apply to my life? It is true: God’s Holy Spirit will do the applying. I am constantly surprised by what people say they got out of my messages. Sure, the text wasn’t about adultery, but the adulterer will be convicted of adultery when confronted with the character of God.

And while I affirm that the Holy Spirit of God is the primary applier of God’s Word, as my history prof Charles Aling said, “God spoke to man, not poached eggs.” It is entirely appropriate, in speaking or in private devotion to ask a respectful “So what?” of the Living God. So much of Scripture is God applying His Word to mankind, the pinnacle of His creation. You aren’t really preaching the Gospel if it is only unapplied fact- or, as my seminary prof Phil Haugen used to say, “Men, in a sense, if you preach the Gospel as potential, you aren’t really preaching the Gospel, are you?”

The Gospel:  The Gospel, the “good news” of God, is a broad term. I think some of your tension comes from an imprecise use.

In the sense that God’s character and work (you cannot separate these) is good news, every message is a Gospel message.

In the sense that the Gospel- what God has done for us in Christ- is where the Law of God drives us, giving us a way to be saved from God’s righteous wrath, every message must be a Gospel message.

But I am guessing you mean a Gospel message, as in, does every message include a call to personal repentance and faith? I say “no.” I especially think this is the case if you think some particular external call/response is necessary to truly facilitate such a response. I choose to present the way of salvation in short form (hopefully not perfunctory) in most every message- what if they get hit by a train on the way home? But if Scripture truly is Christocentric every message really does point to the cross in some way, shape or form. It is our job to show people God’s character in His Word, help them see their need in contrast, then to grab them by the hand and run to the cross. We preach the law with no way out and the Gospel with no strings attached. We show them Jesus. He is not an emotion or a caricature of “niceness,” but a person of the Godhead by whom God accomplished our redemption at the cross.

In Conclusion:  Souls are stumbled when we do not allow God’s Word to speak. We must start with content, even if our message is topical or textual instead of expository. Regardless of your creed, people will know if you trust the Word of God by whether or not you allow it to be your authority. Pulpits are filled with men who say they believe the Bible is the inspired/infallible/inerrant authority, but use it only like a national anthem to introduce their message or a canvas on which they paint their own insights. Every lie is a form of “Has God really said?” Never listen to talking snakes- especially when they disagree with God.

Souls are stumbled when we allow application to poison interpretation, much like the relativist who says, “This is what God’s word means to me” instead of allowing it to stand, then apply to his/her life. We do this for our listeners when we fail to let God work on us before presenting what He says in His Word. My pastor from youth- Brian Pearson- used to say, “A message prepared in the head reaches the head; a message prepared in the heart reaches the heart.”

Souls are stumbled when we get content and interpretation right… and fail to apply the text to our listeners. If God is who He says He is, and we are who He says we are, and Christ did what God said He did, we have no boring mantra to recite, but an urgent message to save the souls of men. Paraphrasing Haddon Robinson, it is a sin to bore your listeners with so grand a subject as the Living God.

Press on, friends, and let them see Jesus.
WM

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“does every message we teach need to be a gospel message? (part deux)” by Joshua Skogerboe and Wade Mobley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.