Mark Altrogge

Mark Altrogge

Mark Altrogge has been senior pastor of Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana, Pennsylvania, since 1982. He has written hundreds of songs for worship, including “I Stand in Awe” and “I’m Forever Grateful.” Mark and his wife, Kristi, have four sons and one daughter.

Find out more on his blog, The Blazing Center.

Who Needs the Church Anyway?

I’ve recently heard of several Christians who aren’t involved in a church and don’t believe they need to be. This is no new phenomenon. In Hebrews 10:25, the author says “the habit of some” is to neglect meeting together, and he clearly commands us not to do this.

The church is the body of Christ. If my right hand suddenly decided it didn’t want to be part of my body and just left, how would that affect my body and how long would my hand survive on its own? (Maybe that’s what Thing did in The Addams Family). The church is the household or family of God, which implies our need for relationship.

In Ephesians 2:22, Paul tells the Ephesian believers that God is building them together locally to be a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. How can we be built together with other believers if we’re not part of a church?

Romans 12:5-6 says we are “members one of another” and have all been given gifts to build others up. If we’re not part of a church we deny others the opportunity to be encouraged by our gifts and cut ourselves off from the benefit of others’ gifts.

We need the preaching and teaching of the word of God by pastors and teachers. Paul urged Timothy to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Ti 4:2). Leaders are to equip the saints for the work of ministry through their preaching and teaching (Eph 4:12). If we’re not part of a local church we won’t be taught and equipped for the work of ministry as we should.

Hebrews says we neglect meeting together because of the deceitfulness of sin. To avoid being deceived we should increasingly encourage one another. If we aren’t part of a church we will be more subject to deception.

Peter says believers are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10). Peter says we’re a race, a nation, a people – and together we should proclaim God’s excellencies. Peter would have no category for lone or isolated believers.

If you don’t view being a part of a church as very important can I urge you to consider this verse?

As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight. (Psalm 16:3).

Maybe you’ve had a bad experience in the church. Maybe you see the deficiencies of Christians. Yet David looked at his fellow believers as “the excellent ones in whom is all my delight.” Your fellow believers aren’t perfected yet, but they are God’s excellent ones. Christ is in them and wants to bless you through them. Can I encourage you to ask God to lead you to a local church where you will find delight in your fellow believers?

Mark Altrogge serves as a pastor at Sovereign Grace Church. Find out more at The Blazing Center.

7 Benefits of Going Through Hard Times

Everything God does in our lives is for our benefit, including suffering. Though they never seem pleasant at the time, hard times produce wonderful benefits in our lives. On Monday I mentioned one benefit—affliction drives us to God’s word. Here are seven more benefits of suffering:

Affliction drives us to God in prayer

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. James 5:13

Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. Ps 107:6

When the sun’s shining and everything’s going our way, we don’t feel our need for God. But desperate times lead to desperate prayer. When we’re helpless to change our situation, we cry out to our Savior who delivers us from our distress.

Affliction humbles us

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 2 Cor 12:7

Afflictions remind us of how fragile we are. It keeps us lowly. Reminds us that everything we have is a gift. Pride leads to a fall, but God gives grace to the humble. Affliction positions us to receive grace.

Affliction makes us rely on Christ’s power

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Cor 12:9

When we realize how powerless we are, then Jesus can display his might in our lives. When we’ve exhausted all our own resources, Jesus rides in at just the right moment, like the hero in a movie who comes to rescue someone as the train is bearing down on them.

Affliction brings us the comfort of God himself

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction…. 2 Cor 1:3

As well meaning as others are, there are times when no human words can comfort. But God himself comforts us when we cry out to him in our pain. The God of ALL COMFORT, the one who knows exactly what our broken hearts need, comforts us in ALL our affliction. The One who fashioned our hearts, who knows our every drop of sadness, knows the exact medicine we need to comfort us.

Affliction gives us compassion for others

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 2 Cor 1:3–4

When someone else has been through the same thing, their words can really comfort us. Though your pain is horrific now, someday God will use you to bring his comfort to someone else who suffers the fury of depression or the agony of a child who rebels like yours.

Affliction produces endurance and patience

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance Rom 5:3

The only way to get patience and endurance is by being placed in situations that require it. But it will be worth it in the end, because it is by patiently enduring in faith that we’ll enter heaven.

Affliction reminds us that this world is not our home

For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Heb 13:14

As many blessings as this world has, it’s not our home. Affliction weans us from this world, reminds us how transitory it is, and makes us long for heaven, for that day when we’ll see Jesus face to face and he will personally wipe away every tear from our eyes.

Bless the Lord oh my soul and forget none of his benefits. Especially those benefits he brings us through hard times.

Mark Altrogge has been senior pastor of Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana, Pennsylvania, since 1982. He has written hundreds of songs for worship, including “I Stand in Awe” and “I’m Forever Grateful.” Mark and his wife, Kristi, have four sons and one daughter. Find out more on his blog, The Blazing Center.

5 Reasons to Take Strong Courage Today

There are times in life when we need someone to say to us, “Take Courage!” or “Take Heart!” Like the time I was about to rappel backwards over a cliff. I looked down, and it was a long, long way, and I’d never done this before. My friend who had secured my rope to a tree assured me, “Just push off backwards. You’ll be ok. You’re tied to a tree.”

When we are discouraged we need to hear someone say, “Take Courage.” Maybe you are facing an overwhelming situation. Maybe you were recently been laid off or face an uncertain future. Perhaps you are facing a serious health challenge. Maybe you’re not facing a life-and-death situation, but you’re facing several crazy kids who have the gift of frazzling. But at one time or another we all need to hear God say, “Take courage.” Here are a few reasons we can:

Because God Himself is with Us

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. Joshua 1.9

Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” DT 31.6

We can take courage because we aren’t facing our challenges alone. God, the creator of the universe, the all-powerful One, is right here with us. He’s not far off and uninvolved. When we don’t know what to do, he does. He’s never tired, never weary, never takes a break.

Because God Has a Plan for Us

The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.” AC 23.11

God has a plan for each one of his children, and he will fulfill that plan. We don’t have to fulfill some destiny for ourselves; God is accomplishing his work through us. And he never fails to complete his plans.

Because Jesus Has Overcome the World

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” JN 16.33

Jesus said we WILL have tribulation in this world. We shouldn’t be surprised by it. If we look at this world only, we will lose heart. But we can “take heart” and take courage, for Jesus is greater than the world and he has already overcome it. Nothing in this world can defeat our Mighty Conqueror. And he has overcome the world for us—for those he redeemed.

Because Nothing Can Separate Us from God’s Love

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? (RO 8.35)

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (RO 8.38–39)

No matter what we are going through, we can be assured that it hasn’t separated us from Christ’s love. And if he loves us, we can take heart that he will protect us, provide for us, guide us, and help us. Nothing in all creation can separate us from his love. Whether we lose our jobs or our homes or our health or even our minds, Jesus will hold us in his love and never let us go. So, take courage.

Because God himself will strengthen us

“Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.” IS 12.2

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. IS 41.10

We don’t have to somehow summon up strength from within ourselves. If you don’t think you have the strength to make it through, well, you’re absolutely right. You don’t. We don’t have the strength to part the Red Sea or be cheerful in the midst of kids melting down, but God does. And he will pour his strength into us.

When you look down from the edge of the cliff, it looks like a long long fall. Take courage; you’re tied to an almighty immovable Tree. Don’t worry if you’ll have enough courage for tomorrow. God will give you all the strength you need for today. And he’s got bags and bags of grace stored up for tomorrow, a whole warehouse of grace stored up for the future.

Mark Altrogge serves as a pastor at Sovereign Grace Church. Find out more at The Blazing Center.

Working out What God Has Worked In

In the movie Saving Private Ryan, Captain Miller (played by Tom Hanks) and several other men are ordered to find Private James Ryan (Matt Damon) and bring him home to his mother who had lost two other sons in the war. Along the way, they endure incredible hardships and most of them lose their lives to save this one man. Near the end, mission accomplished, Captain Miller lies dying. He pulls Ryan close to him and with his last dying breath gasps, “James, earn this. Earn it.” In other words, go back and live in such a way that shows you appreciated the sacrifices we made for you.

Believers in Jesus have been rescued from eternal destruction by his life, death, and resurrection. We can never earn what he did for us, but he calls us to live a life that shows our appreciation. We are to seek to become like the One who saved us, to walk out and work out the salvation he freely gave us.

Therefore, my beloved as you have always obeyed, so now, not only is in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12–13)

Someone once said, “We must work out what God has worked in.” Jesus saves us as a gift, and “sanctifies” us, or sets us apart, for himself. We then must begin to walk out that “sanctification,” in which the Holy Spirit moves and empowers us to cooperate with him to become like Christ. Someday, we’ll be as much like God as any creature can possibly become. We won’t be gods, but we’ll be more like God even than the angels! He’s changing us to think, act, and reflect the glory of Christ.

Suppose you were raised in another country, then adopted by an American family. You arrive on the doorstep with your bags. You’re technically a son or daughter, since you’ve been adopted. You have all the family rights and privileges, and you’re an heir of the family estate. Yet you know very little about the “culture” of the family—the foods they eat, the way they speak and interact, their values, religion, manners, and duties. Though you’re a son or daughter, it will take a long time to learn to act like it. The moment we believe in Jesus, we’re sons and daughters, but it takes years to learn to think and act like him.

When I learned to play guitar, trying to form chords with my uncooperative fingers felt like trying to corral wild cats. Switching chords felt like I was twisting my fingers into some kind of deformed bird claws. It was an excruciatingly slow process and hard work. But gradually it became more natural, and I didn’t even have to think to form a chord. That’s like the process of sanctification. We work. We kill sin and put on Christ. It’s hard at times. It’s not “natural.” But eventually we change because it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

It’s like we’re driving a locomotive. We sweat and strain as we pull levers, shovel coal, watch the tracks and the instruments. We put all our effort into it. But all the while, there’s this mighty engine propelling the whole train. God is at work in us. The Creator of the galaxies strengthens and propels us. That’s why Paul said:

By the grace of God I am what I am and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” (1 CO 15.10)

This is what gives me hope to drag myself out of bed every day and put my hand to the plow again. Despite failing so many times and feeling miles from being conformed to Christ, my hope is not in my own strength, but in God’s grace. He began this work in me and he’ll finish it (Php 1.6). He who called me is faithful; he will surely do it (1 Th 5.24).

In Saving Private Ryan, after Captain Miller charges Ryan to live a life worthy of their sacrifices, he dies. But Jesus didn’t charge us to work out our salvation, then disappear never to be seen again. He rose from the dead and sent his Spirit to infuse us with desire and power to obey. Yes, we labor, strain, and strive to reach the prize. But we do it in the power of God who works within us.

Mark Altrogge serves as a pastor at Sovereign Grace Church. Find out more at The Blazing Center.

The Safest Place is in the Middle of the Battle

Yesterday morning a man shared this word with our church: “If God has called you into a battle, then the middle of the battle is the safest place to be, because that’s where God is.”

Wow. What a great word! Usually when I’m in the middle of a battle I would rather be anywhere else BUT there. Have you ever felt like running away? I have at times. In fact I told my wife recently that sometimes I feel like it would be a relief to change my name, move to another town and be a coffee Barista. Of course I would never do that. I would drive a hotdog truck.

But that wouldn’t be the solution. The best place to be is right where God has called me, no matter how hard it is, because that’s where God is.

Reminds me of one of my favorite verses, Isaiah 43:2:

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.

God doesn’t say that when we pass through the waters he will be watching over us, or thinking about us or observing us. When God calls us into fire and flood, he promises to be WITH us.

Reminds me of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in Daniel 3:23-25:

And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell bound into the burning fiery furnace. Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He declared to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?” They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.” He answered and said, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.”

I love this – old King Neb is scratching his head saying I thought we threw three men in there. Why do I see four? You see four because when God calls you into the fire, that’s the safest place to be because that’s where God is.

And when the time comes when God calls each of us to walk through the dark valley of the shadow of death, he will be with us there.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Psalms 23:4

What battle has God called you into today? Don’t forget he is with you – and wherever God is is the safest place to be.

Two Powerful Reasons to Trust in God

While the people of Israel were encamped at Gilgal, they kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month in the evening on the plains of Jericho. And the day after the Passover, on that very day, they ate of the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. And the manna ceased the day after they ate of the produce of the land. And there was no longer manna for the people of Israel, but they ate of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year. (Joshua 5:10–12)

Israel had just crossed the Jordan and were camped on the edge of the promised land. For 40 years God had provided manna from heaven for them to eat. 40 years, day after day after day. They’d never lacked and never been hungry, not even for a single day. Here on the edge of the promised land they celebrate the Passover and the day after they eat of the produce of the land. (That must have tasted pretty good after 40 years of eating nothing but manna day after day). And what is amazing is that the very day after they eat of the produce of Canaan, the manna ceases completely. This gives us (at least) two powerful truths about God and reasons to trust him.

The first is that he will never fail to provide for his children. If you believe in Jesus Christ, he will never leave you nor forsake you. He will never fail to give you all that you truly need. We may only have enough for today, but he will surely supply all we need for tomorrow. He told us to ask our heavenly Father to provide our “daily” bread, not our monthly or yearly bread. Jesus told us not to be anxious about tomorrow, but to trust God for each day’s provision. God is going to provide for you today. He will give you the strength, wisdom, and guidance you need for today.

The second truth this passage shows us about God is that he has a perfect timing for everything in our lives. No affliction will go a single day longer than he has planned. He knows the exact day and hour that he will bring each and every one of his blessings into our lives. He won’t forget. He won’t be a minute late. Nothing can stop God from fulfilling his every purpose for our lives in his perfect timing.

God will never fail to provide for us, and he will always provide for us at just the right time. He knows what will bring himself the most glory. We may feel like we’re tied to railroad tracks with a train bearing down on us. But like the hero in an old-time movie, Jesus will ride in at the right time and sweep us off the tracks just in the nick of time before the train gets to us.

Keep trusting your heavenly Father. Keep asking for your daily bread, daily strength, daily joy. He has abundant goodness stored up for you and he’s just waiting for the perfect time to pour it out.

Mark Altrogge serves as a pastor at Sovereign Grace Church. Find out more at The Blazing Center.

Faith is War

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:7-8)

Faith is war.

It’s a fight. A battle. Faith is hard. It’s a fight to trust God when you can’t see him. It’s a fight to believe God is in control when all around us screams life has derailed. It’s a battle to thank Jesus that his steadfast love never ceases and his mercies are new every morning in the midst of pain and sadness. It’s a fight to believe Scripture rather than our eyes and circumstances. It’s a fight to forgive and resist bitterness and believe Jesus can change others’ hearts. It’s straining and wrestling to rejoice always. It’s a struggle to believe that in the end, God will work all this out for our good. To believe that Jesus will have the final word. To believe our sufferings are producing an eternal weight of glory. Faith is a fight to believe that following Jesus is better than sin.

Faith is a long fight. It requires endurance. A long uphill haul. And faith is a growing process. Our muscle of faith will grow stronger and stronger over time the more we are forced to use it. It begins as a mustard seed. It is “I believe, help my unbelief.” But it grows over time. That’s why faith is a long fight. When one battle is over, another one begins. Just when you’ve cut one enemy down with the sword of God’s Word, you have to pick up the shield of faith to quench another barrage of fiery darts of doubts and accusations. Faith is a lifetime war.

It’s a war with weapons. We must not forget about them. We must regularly take in God’s word, rehearse it, memorize it, recall it, use it, quote it, as Jesus did when he was tempted. We must shield ourselves from Satan’s lies that God is not good, God has abandoned us, God is not in control, God’s plan is not wise. We must conquer the accuser of the brothers by the blood of the Lamb and our testimony that God is sovereign, wise, faithful, and loving.

Faith is a war Jesus helps us in. We’re not fighting by ourselves. We have a great High Priest, a Mighty Mediator who has written our names on his palms and his heart. We have a Good Shepherd who protects us, leads us by still waters, revives our souls. We have the Holy Spirit of God who lives in us, guides us, speaks to us, and helps us. We have moment by moment access to the throne of grace where we can receive mercy and help in time of need, which is all the time. And Jesus has provided brothers and sisters to pray for us and stand with us. We’re not alone in this war.

Faith is a “good fight.” It’s a race with a crown at the end. It’s a war that ends in eternal, infinite glory and joy. It’s a war that is worth it. Don’t give up. Don’t turn back now. Seek God for fresh grace and strength this morning. Someday you will be so glad you kept going. It won’t always be this hard. There is good around the corner. Jesus is greater than all you are going through. He has loved you with an everlasting love and his everlasting arms are underneath you. Nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Keep fighting the good fight.

Mark Altrogge serves as a pastor at Sovereign Grace Church. Find out more at The Blazing Center.

Powerful Promises for the Discouraged

The couple stood in my office, discouraged and downcast.

They were struggling in their relationship. They were new believers, newly married. The woman had a child from a previous relationship. They had very little money. They had conflicts. Communication problems. Very little income. They didn’t know how they were going to make it. They were frustrated at each other and had little hope.

I wonder what they thought when I urged them, “Don’t give up! Don’t quit! Keep seeking Jesus. Keep reading his word and praying and following him. If you do, I guarantee you Jesus will help you and change you. You may not see drastic changes from day to day, but I promise you that 5 years from now you will say to me you can’t believe how much Jesus has changed you.

They looked at me incredulously.

“Here’s why I’m so confident,” I said. Because I believe after talking with you that you are genuinely born again. That means the Spirit of God has come to dwell in you and he’s given you new hearts and new desires to obey God. And he has begun to transform you into the likeness of Jesus.

“Here’s why I’m so confident.  Because in Philippians 1:6 God says: ‘And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.’ Did you hear that? Paul said ‘I am SURE of this.’ What was he so sure of? That if God BEGAN a good work in the Philippians, he would COMPLETE that work.”

I went on. “And what is the ‘good work’ God has begun in you guys? The good work of making you into the likeness of Jesus.” Then I shared Romans 8:29 “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

“It’s a slow process,” I said, “but God never stops working. He began this good work in you and he won’t quit until you are completely conformed to Jesus’ image. Every day, little by little, he chips away here, adds something there, presses in here, squeezes a little there, and gradually we become more and more like Jesus. He won’t finish the work completely until he returns and we get our new resurrection bodies. But in the meantime, if you walk with Jesus, God will make you more and more like him.”

“So if you come back and see me in 5 years, you will say to me, ‘Mark, you won’t believe how much God has changed us. Our marriage is so much stronger today than when we came to see you 5 years ago.’”

I saw a glimmer of hope in their eyes. And after we prayed, they left my office, a little less discouraged.

They kept coming to our church. They kept pursuing Jesus. And I got to watch God transform them. I saw God keep his promises to make them more and more like Christ. And 5 years after that initial meeting, they had a couple more children and a much stronger marriage and were still changing. Well, it’s been about 25 years now since our meeting. They had more children, moved to a different state, but continued serving Jesus. And they recently posted on Facebook thanks to Jesus for another new grandchild.

I can still see them standing in my office downcast and discouraged. And I still think about my bold promise that if they kept following Jesus he would change them. They did. And he did.

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

Are you struggling today? Discouraged about your seeming lack of progress in Christ or slowness to change? Keep following Jesus. Keep reading his Word. Keep praying and fellowshipping with believers. Keep putting sin to death. Keep doing good. 5 years from now you will be amazed at what God does in you.

I can’t wait to see that couple that stood in my office years ago, standing in heaven shining with the glory of Jesus. I can’t wait to remind them of that day a long long time ago when someone promised how different they’d be in 5 years if they trusted Jesus.

Mark Altrogge serves as a pastor at Sovereign Grace Church. Find out more at The Blazing Center.

God’s Incredible Promise of Guidance

Are you at a major crossroads? Need God’s guidance for a challenging child or teen? Facing a big decision and don’t know the right way to choose? This promise is for you…

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you. Psalm 32:8-9

God desires to give us his wisdom and guidance. He longs to help us. He freely gives his wisdom to those who seek him. In Proverbs he portrays Wisdom as standing on the street calling out, practically begging people to receive it. There’s no reluctance on God’s part to guide us. It is only our failure to ask that keeps us from receiving.

Once when attempting to install a new toilet, I overtightened one of the bolts that attached it to the floor and cracked the toilet. When my wife heard my anguished “Argggggggh,” she asked, “Did you pray about this before you started?” to which I replied, “No, and I’m not going to.” It’s only our failure to ask for God’s wisdom that we don’t receive it, not any lack of desire on God’s part to give it.

God himself will counsel us – “I” will instruct you.” God, the only being in the universe who has infinite knowledge and wisdom, promises to personally instruct, teach and guide us. He knows all things. He knows all possible outcomes. He fashions the hearts of everyone. He knows what our child needs most. He knows what will happen if we take that job. He knows what choice will bring blessing into our lives.

God WILL instruct teach and counsel. It doesn’t say he might. We can be absolutely confident God will guide us and give us wisdom. He’s not playing games with us. He won’t fail to answer our requests for guidance.

The only requirement God puts upon us is that we stay near him. That he doesn’t have to force us to stay near with bit and bridal like a stubborn mule. As long as we continue to abide in Christ, he will direct us. As long as we regularly seek the Lord in his word and prayer, he will get his direction to us one way or another. We won’t miss it.

Heavenly Father, thank you that you have promised to guide us and give your children wisdom. I ask you for it today. Please teach me and instruct me in the way I should go. Please give me wisdom in the decisions I must make today. Thank you that you long to give me wisdom more than I desire to receive it. Thank you that you are generous and give wisdom without reproach. Please guide me for your glory. Amen.

Are You a Part of What Jesus is Building?

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. MT 16:18

The church is the only institution on earth that Jesus is specifically building. Yes, Jesus establishes nations and helps us launch businesses, ministries, and careers. But he has a unique commitment to his church. He is personally building and protecting his church. Even the “gates of hell”—all the powers, schemes, and assaults of Satan and his demons—won’t be able to destroy Jesus’ church.

The church is the only earthly institution that will last for eternity. The great kingdoms of old have faded away, but the church is growing and stronger than ever. Ancient Egypt, with its Pharaohs and Pyramids, is history. Babylon no longer exists. The great kingdom of Rome has fallen. Nero and Caesar and others who persecuted the church have long passed away, but the church just keeps going. Someday the United States will be a memory. The biggest businesses and most successful companies will be forgotten. In eternity, no one will care about Apple or Toyota or Google. Only the church will remain for eternity.

So, if the church—Jesus’ body, his temple, his household, his bride, his beloved, his flock that he purchased with his own blood—is this important to Jesus, then should it not be important to his people? Should we not seek to contribute to and build and bless and strengthen and build up Jesus’ church? Should we not be committed to the one institution that will last for eternity? Should we not do all we can to promote the unity of the Spirit? Should we not be devoted to the fellowship and teaching of our church?

Many believers have written off the church. I recently talked with a man who told me he reads his Bible and prays every morning but wants nothing to do with a church. “They’re a bunch of hypocrites,” he seethed when I asked him why he so loathes the church. Maybe he’d had some bad experiences, but not every church is full of hypocrites. We’re weak and messy and fail often, but Jesus hasn’t given up on his people. He’s building his church, and he will be successful.

So, don’t give up on the church. Get involved. Serve wherever you can. Seek the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Give to the church. It’s an infinitely better investment than Apple. Be a part of Jesus’ church—some local church—somewhere. Jesus loves his church, despite its many flaws. And he’s building it brick by brick, day after day, slowly but surely. And despite its many flaws and weaknesses, Jesus will finish his work and perfect his temple to dwell in. If Jesus is so committed to building his church, I want to be too.

Mark Altrogge has been senior pastor of Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana, Pennsylvania, since 1982. He has written hundreds of songs for worship, including “I Stand in Awe” and “I’m Forever Grateful.” Mark and his wife, Kristi, have four sons and one daughter. Find out more on his blog, The Blazing Center.

We All Will be Surprised on Judgment Day

A lot of people are going to be surprised on judgment day. Because the things they do to believers they are really doing to Jesus himself personally. Everything from ISIS beheading Christians to North Koreans abusing believers in prison camps to that person at work who makes fun of you because of your faith. They’re not hurting mere humans, but everything they do they’re doing to Jesus himself, As Saul found out.

But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. (Acts 9:1–5)

What a shock this must have been to Saul. No wonder he said later he was the foremost of sinners, for he had persecuted the church of God (1 Timothy 1:15). Every time he threw a believer into prison, he was abusing the Savior of the world. He was afflicting the Creator of the universe.

But those who persecute Christians are not the only ones who are going to be surprised on judgment day. Jesus said believers are going to be surprised:

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:34–39)

Anything we do for the lowliest believer—“the least of these my brothers”—we do to Jesus. Anything. And we don’t simply do it for Jesus, we do it to Jesus: “You did it to me.”

My dad would regularly take a mentally handicapped guy to pick up food. He’d bring him to church on Sunday, then take him to Wendy’s for a burger afterwards. I know that when my dad went to heaven last year, Jesus said, “JJ, every time you took Tommy to Wendy’s you were taking me.”

When you help a brother move, spend the day with a crew working on a widow’s house, pray for that discouraged sister, or slip that brother $20 to get some food, remember who you’re doing it to. Even the smallest acts of love we do for believers will be rewarded:

And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:42)

“Even a cup of water!” Most of the deeds Jesus will reward won’t be monumental, but the smallest acts of kindness in his name.

All those diapers you change, all those stories you tell your kids at night, all those rides you give to the volleyball tournament—all will be rewarded. Every dollar you give to the poor, every visit to the nursing home, every trip to the hospital to see that sick brother, every long morning with the 3-year-olds in Children’s Ministry, every meal you take that family with the newborn, every word of consolation, every text to encourage, every prayer for that hurting believer—you do to Jesus himself and he won’t forget the smallest act of kindness. After all, he remembers every cup of water we give in his name.

So, do whatever you can today to bless brother or sister or someone in need. It doesn’t have to be big. And don’t bother trying to remember it because Jesus will remind you of it on judgment day.

Mark Altrogge has been senior pastor of Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana, Pennsylvania, since 1982. He has written hundreds of songs for worship, including “I Stand in Awe” and “I’m Forever Grateful.” Mark and his wife, Kristi, have four sons and one daughter. Find out more on his blog, The Blazing Center.

The Most Important Step in Becoming More Like Jesus Christ

How do we become more like Christ? By beholding him.

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 CO 3.18)

“In what way do we behold his glory?… It’s the gospel that reveals Christ’s glory. Therefore, to behold his glory we must gaze into the gospel by faith. As we do this, the Spirit will transform us more and more into his likeness.” – Jerry Bridges, Bob Bevington, Bookends for the Christian Life

We become like the One we behold in the Word. As we see him stretch out his hand in compassion to heal a leper, we see how we should be compassionate. When we see Jesus have mercy on the woman caught in adultery, we grow in mercy. As we observe Jesus resist the temptations of Satan to love the world, we learn to love the Lord our God as he did. As we gaze on Jesus hanging on the cross, and not revile his enemies but say, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” we learn to trust our heavenly father and forgive our enemies.

As we see Jesus submit to his Father’s will—“Not my will be done, but yours”—we to learn to submit to our wills to the Father’s will. As we see Jesus caring for his mother while he hangs on the cross, we to learn to honor our parents and care for them. And as we gaze upon Jesus enduring all things because of his love for us, we to learn to endure the sins and failures of others out of love for them.

As we see Jesus empty himself and make himself poor that he might make us rich, we in turn learn to empty ourselves and lay down our lives for others. As we watch Jesus welcome little children, we, too, learn how important children are to Jesus.

As we watch Jesus put up with the pride, selfishness, and stupidity of his disciples, we grow in patience with our fellow believers’ foibles. As we marvel to watch Jesus kneel before his disciples the night before he is to die and wash their feet, the Holy Spirit grows us in humility and servanthood.

We behold the glory of the Lord in all of Scripture. We behold the glory of his holiness and righteousness. The glory of his steadfast love and faithfulness. We see him keep his promises to his people and be true to his word. We behold him creating beauty and caring for widows and orphans. The Bible is filled with the glory of the Lord.

The first step to become more like Christ is to behold his glory in his Word. That’s why it’s so important for us to regularly take in Scripture. For as we read or listen to God’s word we  behold Jesus, and the Holy Spirit transforms us into his image.

Mark Altrogge has been senior pastor of Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana, Pennsylvania, since 1982. He has written hundreds of songs for worship, including “I Stand in Awe” and “I’m Forever Grateful.” Mark and his wife, Kristi, have four sons and one daughter. Find out more on his blog, The Blazing Center.