Stephen Altrogge


Stephen Altrogge

Stephen Altrogge is a writer who lives in Tallahassee, Florida. He’s married to Jen and has three little girls. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook

Find out more when you visit his blog, The Blazing Center.

God’s Dreams are Better Than My Dreams

I’ve been thinking a lot about dreams lately.

Not the kind of dreams you have when you’re sleeping, but the kind you have when you’re awake. The kind of dreams that actually keep you from sleeping. The dream of starting a business. The dream of having kids. The dream of getting married. The dream of signing a record deal. The dream of publishing a book. The dream of having a large house. The dream of becoming a missionary.

My generation has been told that if we dream it, we can have it. You want to be president? You can do it. You want to be a teacher? You can do it? You want to be a famous actor? You can do it. With enough hard work, you can make all your dreams come true. It’s sort of like Field of Dreams—if you build it, they will come. If you dream it, it will happen.

I’ll be honest: there have been times when I’ve bought into the dream machine propaganda. I’ve bought the books and read the blog posts and listened to the podcasts. I’ve written out “life plans” for myself, in which I sketch out all the things I want to accomplish over the next five years. I’ve purchased goal-setting apps for my iPhone (yes, I know I’m a nerd).

But in recent months I’ve come to realize something very important: God isn’t in the dream fulfilling business. 

Actually, God does fulfill dreams, just not my dreams. God is in the business of fulfilling his dreams.

This theme runs through all of scripture. God has a plan, a dream if you will, for each person, and he always fulfills that dream. Abraham and Sarah dreamed of having lots of kids together. God dreamed of them having one son together, who would, along with Abraham, be an instrumental part of an incredible covenant between God and God’s people. Moses dreamed of growing up in Pharaoh’s palace. God dreamed of sending Moses into the desert for forty years, then using Moses to lead God’s people out of Egypt. Hannah dreamed of having a large family. God dreamed of her having a son, Samuel, who would be dedicated to the Lord’s service.

The people of Israel dreamed of a Messiah who would come in power and destroy all the enemies of Israel. God dreamed of a Messiah who would come in weakness and humility and be crucified upon a Roman cross.

The moral of the story? God’s dreams for me are better than my dreams for me, and God will always fulfill his dreams.

Deferred, deterred, and destroyed dreams can make your heart feel sick. They can make you question God. Why God? Why am I still single? Why am I stuck in this job? Why is my church still so small? Why can’t I have kids? Why am I still struggling in my marriage? Why am I still battling these health problems?

To which God would reply (without minimizing your pain one bit):

You can trust me. Your dreams aren’t working out, but mine are. You are mine, and I have a plan for you. I will make it happen.

There’s a fascinating phrase in Acts 13:36. Paul says, “For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption….” God had a very specific purpose for David, and he ensured that David fulfilled that purpose. Once David fulfilled that purpose, he died and went to be with the Lord.

God has a very specific, good, wonderful purpose for you and me. He will fulfill that purpose. My dreams may not come true, but God’s dreams for me will come true. And the good news is: God’s dreams are always much better than mine.

NOTE: I wrote another post on this theme over at the Desiring God blog.


Stephen Altrogge is a writer, pastor, and knows a lot about Star Wars. Find out more at The Blazing Center.


The Most Underrated Spiritual Discipline

We all know that we’re supposed to pray. We all have our own prayer “tactics,” such as prayer lists, prayer apps, prayer walks, prayer meetings, praying out loud, writing down our prayers, writing down the prayers we say out loud, and saying out loud prayers which have been written down.

In spite of all these tactics, I believe prayer is THE MOST underrated spiritual discipline. The simple fact is, I take prayer for granted. Because Christ has opened the way into the Holy Places, I can pray freely at any time of day. I can pray in the car, as I’m working, and while I’m watching my kids. Being able to pray so freely is an incredible, wonderful blessing. I think, however, that the freeness with which I can pray causes me to take prayer for granted.

Think for a moment of all that takes place when I pray.

GOD HEARS

But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him. (Psalm 4:3)

O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch. (Psalm 5:3)

Holy smokes! When I pray, the Lord himself, Yahweh, the King of Kings, the commander of the armies of Heaven, hears me! The God who crushed the Egyptian army and humiliated the prophets of Baal, hears when I call to him. I’m not speaking empty words into a void. I’m not simply talking to myself. This is not the power of positive speaking. When I call, God hears.

GOD STRENGTHENS

O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more. (Psalm 10:17–18)

Not only does God hear me when I pray, but he also strengthens me. In the midst of affliction, when I barely have the strength to call out to God, he hears me and strengthens me. He imparts real spiritual, emotional, and even physical strength to me. Prayer connects me to the infinite strength of God.

GOD BLESSES

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:11)

God is eager to bless me. Just as I am eager to give good gifts to my kids, God is eager to give good gifts to me. When I pray, God unleashes blessings into my life. I realize that sounds terribly Joel Osteen-ish, but it’s not. It’s God’s word. God will give me good things when I pray to him. He will bless me and pour out his incredible riches into my life.

GOD ACTS

The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. (>James 5:16–18)

This passage is mean to encourage us that God does real, incredible things in response to my prayers. When Elijah prayed, God actually altered weather patterns! When I pray, God does real, amazing, incredible things. He changes circumstances. He softens hearts. He intervenes with financial provision. He brings reconciliation. Prayer brings the Almighty God into the mundane details of my life.

Given all the astonishing things that happen when I pray, why do I treat prayer so lightly?


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


To Those of You Who Don’t Like to Sing on Sunday

So, you don’t like to sing when you go to church on Sunday. You’re not really the singing type. You’re quiet. Introverted. Stoic. Not prone to outward displays of emotion. You don’t like to wear your heart on your sleeve. Singing loudly and expressively just isn’t your thing. Neither is hand-raising, or kneeling, or any other outward display of emotion.

Despite the fact that I’ve been leading worship for many years, I can actually relate to you. I’m not a particularly emotional guy. I’m not prone to crying, except for that rare occasion when a child is born unto me. I tend to hold my cards kind of close to the vest. I process things internally, for the most part. All this to say, there are many Sundays when I don’t feel like singing to God, raising my hands, kneeling, or doing anything other than plopping my butt into my chair.

But here’s the thing: those of us who don’t want to sing to God are at odds with the rest of the universe.

Psalm 19:1–4 declares that the entire creation is singing the splendor and glory and wonder of God:

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.

The birds begin every day with loud, caucophonous praise to God. The little lizard who lives under my deck, who can change colors in a flash, loudly declares, “I was created by a brilliant God!” The sun, which is so blazing hot in Florida, proclaims, “Look at what God hath wrought!”

And it’s not just the creation that sings to God. All of the angels declare the glory of God as well. The angels who fly around the throne of God have one, constant refrain:

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory! (Isaiah 6:3)

As the angels behold God, in all his brilliant, blinding, terrifying splendor, they can’t help but explode in praise. They behold and they extol, behold and extol, behold and extol.

The saints in heaven are not silent either. Revelation 5:11–12 gives us a sneak peek into the worship that is taking place in heaven:

Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”

As the saints behold the glory of the Lamb of God, they erupt in thunderous, overwhelming praise. There is no stoicism in heaven. There is no introversion. There is only loud, glorious, heart-felt praise.

If all the universe sings loudly and passionately to God, maybe the problem is with us. When we don’t feel like singing, the problem isn’t a singing problem, but a seeing problem. 

If we could see God as he truly is, we would be utterly undone. We would be singing for joy, kneeling in adoration, and weeping in gratitude. If we saw Jesus in his resurrected, ascended glory, there would be no talk of, “Well, I’m more of the quiet type.”

So what should we do when we don’t feel like singing? Two things.

  • Before the Sunday worship begins, ask God to give you a fresh glimpse of his beauty, glory, and splendor. Ask him to increase your faith and love. Ask him to give you eyes to see and ears to hear. God loves to answer that type of prayer.
  • Sing, whether you feel like it or not. Don’t analyze whether you feel like singing. Instead, sing out of obedience, knowing that God is always worthy of all our praise.

Stephen Altrogge is a writer, pastor, and knows a lot about Star Wars. Find out more at The Blazing Center.


Why is God So Slow to Change Me?

There are certain sins I’ve struggled with for a long time. I mean, like, “surely I’m not still struggling with this,” long. I’ve been a proud, arrogant punk for quite a few years now. When someone disagrees with me, I’m tempted to either arrogantly dismiss them or passionately argue with them.

Could I be wrong about a particular issue? I suppose it’s possible that, somewhere in some world, like Narnia, I could be wrong. But certainly not in this world. I’m usually convinced that the difference between my opinions and absolute truth is very small, if there’s any difference at all. Maybe it’s a firstborn kind of thing. Maybe it’s just that I have some deep pockets of sin in my heart.

Can you relate? Are there any areas of sin you’ve struggled with for a long time? Anger? Impatience? Anorexia? Lust? Same-sex attraction? Gluttony? A sin that has plagued you for years and doesn’t appear to be going anywhere any time soon?

Why is God so slow in making us holy? Think about it for a second. If God wanted to, he could have made us instantly perfect the moment we believed in Jesus Christ. Or he could completely deliver us from our clinging sins in the blink of an eye. Why doesn’t God do this? I mean, isn’t the entire goal of the Christian life to be more and more free from sin?

I like how Barbara Duguid puts it in her book Extravagant Grace:

Let’s be honest: if the chief work of the Holy Spirit in sanctification is to make Christians more sin-free, then he isn’t doing a very good job. The church throughout the ages and throughout the world has not usually been known for its purity and goodness. Instead, it is wracked by a constant history of strife, violence, and hypocrisy. (Page 30)

So what is God up to? Why doesn’t he just obliterate my pride and transform me into Gentle Stephen Meek and Mild? Maybe, just maybe, God’s goal in my sanctification isn’t simply that I would be better person. Don’t get me wrong; holiness matters very much to God. But if my holiness is all that matters to God, he has a strange way of making that happen.

Again, I really appreciate how Barbara Duguid puts it:

God thinks that you will actually come to know and love him better as a desperate and weak sinner in continual need of grace than you would as a triumphant Christian warrior who wins each and every battle against sin. This makes sense out of our experience as Christians. If the job of the Holy Spirit is to make you more humble and dependent on Christ, more grateful for his sacrifice and more adoring of him as a wonderful Savior, then he might be doing a very, very good job even though you still sin every day. (Pages 30–31)

Satan wants my repeated struggle with pride to send me into a downward spiral of despair and condemnation. God wants my struggle with pride to remind me that I’m a desperate sinner who has a glorious Savior. Satan wants me to believe that God couldn’t love someone who sins as much as I do. God wants me to believe that he loves me in spite of all my sin. God allows me to sin in order that I might reject any hope I have in myself and trust only in the righteousness of Christ. That I would give up on the fool’s errand of trying to justify myself and trust only in the justification God provides in Christ.

When you sin in the same way again and again, how do you respond? Do you sink into a swamp of self-loathing, or do you gratefully run to Jesus? When you sin, do you shrink in fear from God or do you humbly confess your dependence on God?

God wants me to be holy, but that’s not his only goal for my life. He wants me to learn to treasure my Savior and humbly depend on Him for everything in my life.

And if you disagree with me, you absolutely must be wrong.


Stephen Altrogge is a writer, pastor, and knows a lot about Star Wars. Find out more at The Blazing Center.


Is Your Phone Drowning out the Voice of God?

It’s no secret that I’m a pretty big tech nerd. I love my iPhone, my iPad Air, and my Macbook Pro. I love the fact that all three of my devices seamlessly integrate, to the point where I can even take a phone call on my Macbook. I love using Twitter and Facebook to connect with people (although I’m starting to despise the “personality” tests that are beginning to dominate FB—no you would not be Luke Skywalker if you were a Star Wars character). I try to stay up on all the latest gadgets and apps and video game systems. I’d like to get a smart watch. I love the little tracking chip I had installed in my neck (just kidding). Needless to say, I spend quite a bit of time in front of a screen.

And while I’m certainly not opposed to spending time in front of a screen, I’m beginning to wonder if I my screen time is causing me to not hear God’s voice. You see, God is speaking to me all the time. He speaks to me a thousand times a day. The question is: Am I listening?

Now before you scream, “Heretic!” and burn me at the stake, let me explain. God is speaking to me all the time, but not audibly, not in the “still small voice” kind of way (“Wear the red socks, Stephen!”), and not by causing the clouds to form a cross, or something weird like that.

God is speaking to me all the time through creation.

Psalm 19:1–2 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.”

Every day, the brilliant, blinding, healing, heating sun cries out, “I was created, and my Creator is glorious!” The stars sing a three billion part harmony, of which the main refrain is, “We were made by a creative, brilliant, overwhelming God!”

Matthew 6:26 says, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”

My house is surrounded by trees, and those trees are full of birds. Every time a bird eats a nut or insect or worm, it is declaring, “Someone is taking care of me, and that same Someone will take care of you! If God takes care of me, don’t you think he’ll take care of you?”

Isaiah 40:8 says, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.”

The trees that surround my house are currently changing colors and dropping leaves. As a leaf falls to the ground, its dying cry is, “I perish quickly, but the Word of God lasts forever! Trust it!”

God has filled the world with reminders of his glory, splendor, love, affection, and fatherly care. God really does want to speak to us through the sunshine and the Milky Way and the sparrows and the flowers. Creation is constantly belting out the glory of God, if only we have eyes to see and ears to hear.

Technology is a tremendous blessing. But I’m beginning to wonder if all my texting and Tweeting and Instagramming might be crowding out the song of creation. I’m wondering if the constant beeps and chimes and space sounds (my text message alert) are drowning out the glory of what is happening all around me. Maybe I would worry less if I spent less time on my phone and more time pondering the birds. Maybe I would have more joy if I spent less time “liking” things on Facebook and more time basking in the sunshine. Maybe I would treasure God’s Word more if I spent more time kicking around in the leaves.

Sorry, gotta run. My text messages keep piling up.


Stephen Altrogge is a writer, pastor, and knows a lot about Star Wars. Find out more at The Blazing Center.


3 Crucial Truths that Keep Me from Going Crazy

The Bible is full of verses about change. Put off the old and put on the new! Put to death the sin that wages war within you! Speak the truth in love so that everyone may grow up in godliness. Become more like Christ. Pursue the spiritual disciplines, give to the poor, forgive one another, love one another, show hospitality, extend grace and mercy. Stop being so selfish and start giving a rip about other people!

Change is a good and God-glorifying thing. I don’t want to remain as I am. I want to become more and more like Jesus, and I want those around me to become more and more like Jesus. This article is not one of those “just let go and let God,” articles.

But when it comes to change, there are three crucial, biblical truths that I must remember in order to keep my sanity.

ONLY GOD CAN DO THE CHANGING

I often have this strange notion in my head that the key to change is found somewhere within myself. If I memorize enough Bible verses, pursue enough accountability, and pray enough, I’ll automatically become godly. I’ll walk in the triumphant, glorious, victorious life, easily slaying one sin after another, like Aragorn plowing through the Uruk-Hai at Helm’s Deep.

This, of course, is absolute insanity. In John 15:5, Jesus put it bluntly when he said, “…for apart from me you can do nothing.” When Jesus said “nothing,” he really meant nothing. Apart from Jesus working mightily within me, I absolutely cannot and will not change. I can’t make myself overcome my sinful worry. Only Jesus can do that. I can memorize Scriptures, pray hard, and ask for accountability, but those things can’t cause my heart to trust God. Only Jesus can cause me to trust God.

Paul puts it this way in Philippians 2:12–13, “…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.” I can and should do all the right things, yet God must work the change within me.

The reality that God does the changing brings me great freedom. I don’t have to constantly obsess and punish myself over my failure to obey God. I don’t have to perpetually operate in navel gazing mode. Lately, I’ve been fighting a sometimes-winning-sometimes-losing battle with worry. I’ve been praying, memorizing, and all the other things the Bible tells me to do to fight worry, but I know that God is the one who is going to have to actually change me. I know that slowly, over time God will do what he needs to do in me. I don’t have to freak out about my lack of total victory over worry.

Knowing that God does the changing also frees me from feeling like I must change other people. It frees me from acting as as a sin spy, constantly snooping out and reporting sins in other’s lives. In the past, I’ve operated under the assumption that if I could speak the truth clearly enough, a person would change. He would see the error of his ways, repent, and instantaneously change. When a person didn’t change, I assumed it was either because I wasn’t clear enough or because he wasn’t repentant enough. Unfortunately, I didn’t consider the fact that unless God himself moved upon that person, he simply would not change.

Only God can change me, and only God can change others. Coming to terms with that truth will help me keep my sanity.

TRUE CHANGE IS REALLY, REALLY SLOW

For some reason, I tend to assume that Christians should be generally trending upwards in godliness at all times, like a stock that is constantly outperforming the market. Again, this is false, Pharisaical insanity. True change is usually very slow, taking place over months and years, not days and weeks.

In Scripture, spiritual growth is often compared to the growth of trees and plants. Psalm 1:3 says that the man who meditates on God’s word is, “…like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.” These verses don’t describe explosive, overnight, constantly upward growth. These verses don’t describe a spiritual experience in which sin is suddenly expunged from the soul, like some sort of spiritual detox. Spiritual growth is slow, and the fruit comes “in season,” not right away.

This truth again frees me from feeling miserable over my perceived slow growth or even lack of growth. As I pursue God, he will cause me to grow. I probably won’t be able to see my growth, just like I can’t observe the growth of a tree. There will be times when my growth will appear to be stunted, just as a tree can appear temporarily stunted. But as I continue to press into God, he will cause the growth.

God will also cause other believers to grow. They probably won’t grow as fast as my impatient heart wants them to grow, but they will grow. I don’t have to be constantly monitoring other believers, ensuring that they are growing. That’s God’s job, and I can let him deal with it.

Knowing that change is slow keeps me sane.

GOD WILL FINISH WHAT HE STARTED

Philippians 1:6 puts it this way: “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.” That is such sweet, sanity-giving news. God will do it. He will finish the good work he started in me, and he will finish what he started in my fellow believers. Life is not like a marathon, where finishing depends on how much strength I’ve got. God will be the one who carries me across the finish line.

I may be running when he carries me, or I may just barely be hanging on, but either way, God will make sure that I finish.


Stephen Altrogge is a writer, pastor, and knows a lot about Star Wars. Find out more at The Blazing Center.


4 Words That Change Every Situation

Have you ever had one of those, “Woah, wait a minute!” times when reading the Bible? You’re slowly meandering your way through a chapter, trying to clear your sleep-fogged head, when suddenly a verse jumps out and slaps you in the face. I had one of those moments this morning.

I was making my way through Psalms 54, trying to shake off a slight headache, when I read Psalms 54:4:

“Behold, God is my helper…”

Bam! Bible verse to the face (in a good, sweet way). The words “God is my helper” are astonishing. Think about them for a moment. They literally change every situation. God, the God of the universe, the omnipotent, all-wise, all-loving, righteous, true, angel terrifying, sinner saving, God is MY HELPER. Woah. Woah!

  • I am really not feeling well, and I’m really tempted to complain… but God is my helper! He can heal me, or give me the power not complain, or both.
  • My child is not doing well spiritually, and I’m at my wits end… but God is my helper! He can melt my child’s hard heart and give me wisdom to navigate the every sticky situation.
  • My partner on this school project is doing nothing, and I want to punch him in the face… but God is my helper! He can give me diligence, patience, and love.
  • My kids are running around the house, peeing on the floor, and generally driving me insane… but God is my helper! He can give me an otherworldly love for these high speed children.
  • I’ve sinned in the same way again and again and again…but God is my helper! He promises that sin will not have dominion over me. He will give me power to overcome this sin.

There is no situation too great for God. There is no heart too hard for God. There is no budget too tight for God. There is no boss too difficult for God. God is your helper! He is my helper! Those four words change every situation.

Do you need wisdom today? God is your helper. Do you need strength today? God is your helper. Do you need patience today? God is your helper. If God is your helper, that changes everything.


4 Rules to Simplify Christian Dating

Is it just me, or has the whole Christian dating/courting/dorting thing become really, really complicated?

When Josh Harris wrote I Kissed Dating Goodbye, he had good intentions. He was reacting against the casual, recreational, aimless dating that had come to dominate the American landscape. He was trying to help young men and women stop hurting each other through the endless hooking up, breaking up, hooking up, breaking up, etc. Like I said, good intentions, good impulse. I’m grateful for Josh.

But, as we are so prone to do, we took good principles and distorted them and distilled them into a series of unhelpful/legalistic practices. Dating/courting has turned into an elaborate set of unwritten rules which must be followed to the letter, no matter what the circumstances. A guy must ask a girl’s dad first, then the guy must ask the girl, then the girl must say yes, then the couple can start seeing each other IN GROUPS (!). If things go well for the first eight months or so, the couple may or may not be allowed to spend semi-unsupervised time together and possibly even (GASP!) hold hands. Once the young man has firmly established himself financially and is sufficiently godly, he can ask the girl to marry him. Of course, he again must ask the dad first. Both families, as well as lots of church members, must be involved in the entire process, from start to finish.

Now, is there wisdom in some of these practices? Of course. But the reality is, you can’t slap these practices on top of every relationship and expect the relationship to go well. There are so many variables in each relationship: the age of the couple, the spiritual maturity of the couple, whether or not both sets of parents are believers, how long the guy and girl have been a Christian, the ethnicity of the couple, and on and on. To take some variation of the practices above and arbitrarily slap them onto a relationship can actually end up harming the relationship.

And here’s the kicker: believe it or not, the Bible doesn’t actually say a whole lot about dating/courting relationships.

When we place our practices above Biblical principles, it’s a recipe for disaster.

I want to suggest that we can make this whole dating thing a lot simpler and less confusing by simply holding fast to the clear, relatively few principles spelled out in Scripture. What are those principles?

Christians Pursue Jesus Above All

This is the overriding principle which must govern every relationship. Loving Jesus first and foremost means seeking him above all else and obeying his commands above all else. To love Jesus is to obey Jesus. Once this is set firmly in place for both individuals in the relationship, many of the other details will fall into place. Obedience to Jesus is the filter through which every action must pass.

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. (John 14:15)

If we are committed to obeying Jesus, than that necessarily rules out dating unbelievers. There’s no such thing as missionary dating. Missionary dating is simply disobedience dating.

Christians Pursue God’s Wisdom

When it comes to dating, God’s wisdom is desperately needed. There are so many issues which aren’t explicitly addressed by Scripture, and therefore require wisdom. Is it sinful for a couple to drive to a deserted area at night just to “hang out”? No, but it might not be the wisest thing. Is it wise for a young man to talk to a young woman’s parents about dating/courting their daughter? Sometimes. It depends on whether the parents are Christians, how old the woman is, and a host of other conditions. Does a young man need to have financial stability before he can get married? Not necessarily, but it is wise for him to think through his financial status.

The good news is, God loves to give wisdom.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. (James 1:5)

Christians Pursue Absolute Purity

“Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body” (1 Corinthians 6:18).

This is definitely a tough one. Here’s why: part of this is principle and part of this is practice. The principle stands firm: absolute purity. The practices, however, may differ from relationship to relationship. Obviously, premarital sex is out of bounds. Making out in the bedroom is off limits, as is all sexual activity. But there are certain things that may be tempting for some people and not others, like holding hands. This is why we need to be careful about laying strict, absolute practices. Life has so many hues, and each person is so different. Wisdom is an essential component when thinking through this issue.

Men and women must pursue absolute purity when dating. Each individual must wrestle through exactly what this looks like in practice.

Christians Pursue Community

This principle applies to dating couples, just like it applies to every other Christian. As Christians, we are part of God’s family, and we allow other believers to speak into our lives. Dating couples are called to let other Christians speak the truth in love to them. This doesn’t mean that they hang out exclusively in groups, or only in the context of their extended families. It simply means that they open their lives up to other believers.

Christians pursue Jesus, pursue wisdom, pursue purity, and pursue community. These are the firm biblical principles. The practice of these principles will look very different in each relationship. Let’s simplify dating by being committed to these principles, rather than a set of extra-biblical practices.


Stephen Altrogge is a writer, pastor, and knows a lot about Star Wars. Find out more at The Blazing Center.


God Doesn’t Want a Podcast to be Your Pastor

These days, you can pop in your ear buds and instantly listen to some of the best preachers out there. If you want some passionate preaching, you dip into Chandler or Piper. If you want loads of grace you listen to Tullian Tchividjian. If you want a Scottish accent mixed with beautiful Biblical exegesis, you listen to Alistair Begg. If you’re feeling really wild and crazy, you listen to old Mark Driscoll sermons. I’m a big fan of podcasts, and I’m grateful for the glut of wonderful resources available to me.

But the massive availability of fantastic preaching presents a problem as well. It can tempt us to be discontent with our own pastors. We can think, If only my pastor could preach like Matt Chandler. If only my pastor was as grace-centered as Tullian. If only my pastor could bring the Bible heat like John Piper. We wish that our pastors were as gifted as another pastor.

But God doesn’t want Matt Chandler to be your pastor (unless you happen to be in his church). God has placed your pastor in your church to care specifically for you. When your pastor is preparing his sermon, he’s preparing it for you, and God is specifically empowering him to prepare a sermon for you.

Your pastor knows you (at least he should). He knows about your struggles with worry. He knows about your eating disorder. He knows about your battle with greed. He knows about your ongoing chronic illness. Both God and your pastor are shaping the sermon with you, as well as other members of the church, in mind. For your encouragement. For your conviction. For your refreshment. And God intends to use your pastor’s sermon to help sustain your faith.

Tullian isn’t preparing his sermon with you in mind; he has Coral Ridge Church in mind. God primarily intends to use Tullian’s sermon for the benefit of Tullian’s church. Your pastor is better than your podcast.

Your pastor also is with you week in and week out. He’s the one who will be there when your dad finds out that his body is riddled with cancer. He’s the one who will pray for you when your marriage is held together by only a thread. He’s the one who sits next to you when you find out that your pregnancy is going to end in grief. He’s the one who carries you on his heart week after week.

A podcast preacher can’t do that. He carries his own congregation on his heart. Your pastor is better than your podcast.

Don’t tell your pastor that he should try to be more like [insert pastor]. God has put your pastor in your church so that he might care for your soul. In Acts 20:28, Paul gave the following instructions to the Ephesian elders:

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.

Pastoral ministry is serious business. Your pastor is charged with caring for your church. He is charged by God to care for people bought with the blood of Christ. Is there any more serious job description?

Chandler cares for his church.

Begg cares for his church.

MacArthur cares for his church.

And your pastor cares for your church.

Your pastor is better than your podcast.


Stephen Altrogge is a writer, pastor, and knows a lot about Star Wars. Find out more at The Blazing Center.


Making the Church a Safe Place for Mental Illness

Church can be a tough place for people who struggle with depression, anxiety, bipolar, or any other mental disorder. Not because church members don’t care about those who struggle with mental illness, but because most church members don’t really know how to care for those struggle. Those who struggle can feel lonely, hopeless, and ashamed.

I don’t say this in a critical way. Trust me, I get it: mental stuff is really hard to understand. Depression doesn’t make sense if you’ve never experienced it. Chronic physical anxiety almost sounds like worry, even though the two are drastically different. Bipolar doesn’t fit into any sort of neat category. It’s really hard to know how to effectively care for a brother or sister who is mired in the darkness. It’s not as simple as dealing with a headache or the flu, where there is a clear cause and a clear cure.

We’re called to bear one another’s burdens, even if we don’t totally understand those burdens. We’re called to lift one another up, to strengthen one another, and to shower the love of Christ on each other. Church should be the safest place for those who struggle with mental illness. It should be a place of refuge amidst the constant misery. Don’t you agree?

So how can we make the church a safe place for those who struggle with mental illness? Here are a few suggestions.

ACKNOWLEDGE THAT MENTAL ILLNESS IS A REAL THING

In some churches, there’s this weird taboo surrounding mental illness. Nobody ever talks about it or acknowledges that it’s real. If a guy is sunk into depression, we say he’s, “Going through a rough patch,” or, “Having a tough time,” or we don’t say anything at all. If someone has cancer, we pray that God will heal her. If someone has back surgery, we make meals for him. But when it comes to mental illness, we don’t know what to say or do. Everyone knows something is wrong, but nobody actually talks about it.

If we’re going to really serve those who struggle, we need to readily acknowledge that mental disorders are real, and that they can really mess a person up. We need to come to terms with the reality that our outer selves, including our brains, are “wasting away” (2 Corinthians 4:16). We need to affirm that all of creation, including our bodies and brains, have been “subjected to futility” (Romans 8:20). Mental illness is a result of the fall. We are totally depraved, which means that the totality of our being, including our minds, have been broken.

When we acknowledge that mental illness is a real category of suffering, it allows those who are suffering to open up to others. It also allows other Christians to pray for and serve those who are suffering. The Bible has so many words of encouragement for those who are suffering, but we won’t be able to encourage others unless we first recognize that they really are suffering. As one who has dealt with chronic physical anxiety for years, I can assure you, mental illness is real suffering.

TALK ABOUT BOTH THE PHYSICAL AND SPIRITUAL SIDES OF MENTAL ILLNESS

Here’s where things get a bit complex. As humans, we are body and soul together. The body and soul are intertwined, always interacting with, affecting, and even compromising one another. When talking about mental illness, we need to talk about the physical aspects just as much as the spiritual aspects. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, this is how we talk about every other form of sickness. When a woman has cancer, she will be incredibly tempted to worry, and we, in turn, should come alongside her in comfort, prayer, and counsel. But we don’t stop there. We also tell her to get the appropriate treatment for the cancer. We don’t simply say, “You need to pray more!” That would be ludicrous.

To say that the brain is somehow immune from the effects of sin is both unbiblical and counter to everything we know about brain chemistry. When a woman is depressed, there are real, physical symptoms. She may feel incredibly hopeless. She may feel overwhelmingly sad for no apparent reason. She may not even have the strength to get out of bed. You can’t tell her to have more faith, read her Bible more, pray more, or snap out of it, just like you can’t tell a cancer patient to snap out of it. True, biblical care looks like coming alongside of her and praying for her, encouraging her, AND helping her find the appropriate medical treatment.

This is an area that requires biblical, Proverbs-like wisdom. Obviously not all discouragement is depression, not all worry is obsessive compulsive disorder, and not all strange thoughts are schizophrenia. But mental illness is real, and it has a physical side to it. Telling a mentally ill person to just stop only makes things that much worse for them. Rather, we need to help shoulder their burden as much as possible, even though we don’t totally understand the burden.

GIVE LESS ADVICE AND MORE LOVE

The reality is that if you haven’t experienced mental illness it’s really hard to understand it. I don’t say this in a critical, martyr like way—it’s just the way it is. I don’t get migraines, which means I don’t really understand what it’s like to have regular migraines. The same principle holds true if you haven’t dealt with a mental disorder. This means that unless you’re a trained physician, one of the best ways to serve those who are struggling is to give them less advice and more love. My friend Adam once said to me, “I don’t know what it’s like to have anxiety, but I believe you. When you say you’re having a bad day with anxiety, I just trust that you are.” Those words were really meaningful to me. When I would tell Adam I was having a bad day, he wouldn’t try to fix me somehow. He would pray for me, which is what I needed most.

Those who are struggling with a mental disorder need to be constantly reminded that God loves them and is for them. They need to be reminded that even though they can’t see it or feel it, God is near, he is taking care of them, and he’ll get them through the darkness. They don’t need to be told to try harder, pray harder, believe harder, or work harder. They need to be gently reminded again and again that the Good Shepherd is carrying them, even though they feel totally lost. They need to be encouraged that their awful feelings are not an accurate picture of reality.

CONCLUSION

I want the church to be a safe place for messy people, including those, like me, who struggle with some form of mental illness. Is it easy to serve someone with a mental disorder? Of course not! But Jesus gravitated toward those who didn’t haven’t it all together, and he wants us to follow his lead. Let’s move toward the mess.


Stephen Altrogge is a writer, pastor, and knows a lot about Star Wars. Find out more at The Blazing Center.


How to Be a Weird Christian Without Being a WEIRD Christian

Being a Christian means being weird. I don’t mean dances with snakes weird, although Dances With Snakes could be a great movie, especially if it starred Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall. No, I’m talking about true, holy weirdness. If we truly follow and obey Jesus, we will strike the world as being weird, odd, possibly even a bit unstable. After all, what “normal” person seeks to fight against sexual lust? What “normal” person wants to give away a significant portion of their income? What “normal” person forgives their enemies and does good to those who mistreat them? What “normal” person stakes all their hope on a dying and rising Messiah? Following Jesus means saying “no” to many of the things the world loves and considers normal. It often means offending others for the sake of obeying Jesus.

On top of the inherent worldly weirdness of Christianity, the gospel is inherently offensive. The gospel is an affront to our self-righteousness. It tells us that we are wicked, that God is holy, and that we cannot earn our way to God. In 1 Corinthians 1:18 it says:

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

To those who don’t know God, the message of the gospel is folly. Insanity. Stupidity. Utter ridiculousness. It is a stumbling block to Jews, insanity to Muslims, and stupidity to atheists.

Because following Jesus is “weird” and the message of the gospel is “folly,” we must take care that we do not add any additional stumbling blocks to the message of the gospel. We must take great pains to ensure that the only thing unbelievers stumble over is the gospel, and that the only offense is the offense of Jesus Christ himself. If an unbeliever comes to associate one of my preferences with the message of Jesus, I have created an additional stumbling block to the gospel.

Tim Keller says:

If some aspect of a new culture does not compromise the gospel itself and makes you more accessible to others, there is no reason not to adapt to that element out of courtesy and love – even if it is not your preference. Otherwise, the gospel may, because of you, appear “unnecessarily alien.” We must avoid turning off listeners because we are culturally offensive rather than the gospel…. Proper contextualization [of the gospel] means causing the right scandal – the one the gospel poses to all sinners – and removing all unnecessary ones. (Center Church, 111)

What does this mean practically? It means we must make sure that we never turn the gospel into “Jesus + my preference.” Is classical homeschooling a good education option? Sure. But it’s not the gospel. Is it smart to think through different vaccination options? Yes. But vaccination is not the gospel. Are hymns valuable to sing in church? Yes. Not the gospel. Is organic living a healthy lifestyle option? Yeah. Not the gospel. Do Republicans (and Democrats) have some valuable ideas? Yep. Not the gospel. You get the point.

We must always be careful to distinguish between our preferences and the gospel. I never want someone to feel out of place at my church if they don’t homeschool, or eat a certain way, or hold to a particular set of non-Biblical political ideas. When an unbeliever comes into my church I know they will stumble over Jesus and the message of the gospel. I don’t want to add any additional stumbling blocks.

Have you added any stumbling blocks to the gospel?


The Danger of Turning a Good Thing into a Moral Thing

All of us have a tendency to take something that is good, at least in our opinion, and add moral weight to it. Public school, home school, and private school can all be good things. Organic food can be a good thing. Dressing up for church or dressing down for church can be good things. Dating, courting, and dorting, can all be good things. Watching television can be a good thing and abstaining from television can be a good thing.

The danger, however, is when we take a good thing and we turn it into a moral thing. When we make a good thing into something that other people must do if they are going to be truly spiritual. When we take a good thing and add it onto justification by faith as the way to God’s approval.

Principle Vs. Practice

All of us are tempted to do this. A lot of it has to do with our experiences. I was homeschooled growing up, and I see both the spiritual and educational benefits of homeschooling. But, I need to be careful that I don’t start to believe that homeschooling is morally superior to other education methods. I need to be very careful to distinguish between principles and practices. (For the record, I send my kids to public school.)

It is dangerous to turn a good thing into a MORAL thing.

The principle is that parents must raise their children in the fear of the Lord. Homeschooling is one practice for accomplishing that. However, I also know many godly parents who have raised their children in the fear of the Lord through the practice of sending their kids to public school. These parents are just as committed to their children as the parents that homeschool.

It’s the same with relationships. The principle is that young men and women must pursue relationships with absolute purity as they look ahead to the day they are married. The practice of courtship is one way for this to happen. It can happen through dating as well. A young man and woman can “date” and still be pure and pursue intentionality in their relationship.

The Danger of Unnecessary Guilt

Why do we need to be so careful to avoid turning something good into something moral? Because when we do this, we place a burden of guilt on people that God does not place on them. When we say that homeschooling is the only way, we make those who don’t homeschool feel guilty and out of place. We place a weight on them that God does not place on them. When we say that it’s wrong to play video games, and we tell others that it’s wrong, we place a weight of guilt upon them that God does not place on them. And we steal their joy.

So what’s the solution? First, we hold fast to justification by faith. A Christian is a Christian because they trust in Jesus as savior and bow to him as Lord. Nothing more, nothing less.

Then, we hold fast to what is clear in the Bible. That is our authority. We shouldn’t tell people that they can’t date. We should tell people that they must pursue purity, love, wisdom, and counsel in every relationship. We can’t tell people that they must read their Bibles every single day. We can tell them that they should seek to delight in the law of the Lord. We need to hold fast where God holds fast, and be flexible in the other areas.


Stephen Altrogge serves as a pastor at Saving Grace Church. Find out more at The Blazing Center.