Stephen Altrogge


Stephen Altrogge

Stephen Altrogge serves as a pastor at Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana, PA, where his main duties include leading worship, preaching, and working with youth. He also has written a number of worship songs that have been included on Sovereign Grace Music albums. Stephen is the author of the book Game Day For the Glory of God: A Guide For Athletes, Fans, and Wannabes, published by Crossway Books in September 2008, and The Greener Grass Conspiracy: Finding Contentment on Your Side of the Fence, published by Crossway Books in April 2011. When not shining his dad’s shoes, you can find Stephen drinking coffee or playing video games.

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

6 Ways to Kickstart Your Devotional Life

There are times when, for whatever reason, our devotional life goes stale. Bible reading seems like a colossal chore, our prayers feel tepid and weak, and our love for God ebbs. We feel like we are stuck in a spiritual rut, like we don’t have any soul traction, like we’re just spinning our spiritual wheels. These times of staleness can be incredible frustrating and discouraging.

Are you in a spiritual rut? Here are a few practical tips to breathe new life and vigor back into your devotional life.

PRAY! PRAY! PRAY!

All the practical tips in the world won’t make a lick of difference unless God moves mightily on your heart. God cannot be controlled. He is not a personal genie who can be summoned on command. He cannot be summarized or contained in a neat formula. But he promises to respond to our humble requests. He is a good father who loves to give good gifts to his children. In Luke 11:13 Jesus said:

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!

God loves to give the Holy Spirit to us, but we have to ask! If your devotional life is in a rut, humbly confess your cold heart to God and ask him to breathe white hot affection back into you.

READ A BOOK

Seeing the splendors of God through the undimmed eyes of another person can be tremendously helpful. One of the ways to see God through the eyes of someone else is to read a book. Often times our view of God is cluttered and clogged by the circumstances of life. Reading a book allows us to stand on the shoulders of someone else and see over all the clutter. If your devotional life is dim and blurry, take a short break from your regular Bible reading and spend some time savoring a good book. I recommend any of the books on my list of thirty books every Christian should read.

READ THE PSALMS

The Psalms are an intensely devotional section of scripture. The authors of the Psalms experienced the highs and lows of life, and they met God in the midst of those highs and lows. They experienced the faithfulness of God in the dry times and in the seasons of fruitfulness. If your devotional life is lacking oomph try spending some time in the Psalms.

START A BIBLE READING PLAN

Many times our devotions lack substance because we don’t appropriately plan them out. We meander from verse to verse, reading a bit here, a snatch there, yet never making any real progress through God’s word. If this describes your devotions, maybe you need a Bible reading plan to get you on track. The ESV Bible website has a bunch of different Bible reading plans to get you started. If your devotional life is lacking direction trying starting a Bible reading plan.

ABANDON YOUR PLAN

Some of us like plans a little bit too much. We like to make lists and then cross things off those lists. We like the feeling of progress, of moving forward, of gettin’ her done. We apply our love for plans to our Bible reading and thus read through the Bible every year like clockwork. This is a good thing, don’t get me wrong. But there are times when we need to abandon our plan and simply slow down our Bible reading. To delight in and savor a chapter, or a section, or just one verse. If your devotional life is feeling too rigid and stiff try abandoning your plan for a while.

CHANGE UP YOUR METHODS

Most of us read the Bible. After all, the Bible is a book and books are meant to be read. No argument from me. But remember, significant portions of the scriptures were originally intended to be heard. The apostolic letters were read aloud in the churches. The Psalms were read aloud in the synagogues. Scripture was meant to be both and read and heard. The ESV Bible site allows you to listen to the Bible instead of reading it. If your devotional life is feeling repetitive try listening to God’s word. Take notes as you listen.

Out of all these tips, the first is the most important. You can do all the right things and yet if God doesn’t work powerfully in your life nothing will happen. However, I know that God wants your devotions to be meaningful. He wants you to have a vibrant, joyful devotional life. In light of that truth I would encourage you to prayerfully try these different suggestions.

Don’t be content with a mediocre spiritual life. Press into God. He wants to meet you.


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.


The Rumors of the Church’s Death Have been Greatly Overstated

These days, it’s kinda cool to criticize the church. About once a week, a new, angsty memoir is released by someone who grew up in the church, had a series of bad experiences, left the church, and is now finding healing and/or catharsis in some different version of the church (Catholic, Episcopal, Eastern Orthodox, etc.). In their memoir, they inevitably talk about all the shortcomings of the church and all the things the church needs to be. The church needs to be less flashy, more welcoming, more community centered, more Bible-centered, more inviting to those who are LGBTQI.

And, of course, a doomsday study is released every few months, indicating that the church is on the verge of being swallowed up by irrelevance.

  • A New Study Indicates that 98% of Americans are Raging Atheists
  • 77% of Christians Support Gay Marriage
  • 68% Of Evangelicals are Secretly Catholic

You get the point.

If the church doesn’t adapt, it will die! The Millennials are leaving the church in droves! The church is falling apart! Marriage is on the rocks, the Bible is becoming irrelevant, and the family unit is being torn asunder! Doom! Angst! Fear-mongering! 

Does the church need to adapt and change in necessary and biblical ways? Sure. Does the church need to think carefully about cultural issues? Of course. But no matter how much you rant and rave and criticize the church, it’s not going anywhere. No matter how many studies Barna and his boys release, the church will continue to stand.

Since it’s inception, the church has always been falling apart and God has always been breathing life into it.

The Corinthian church was rife with division (1 Corinthians 3:3), sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 5:1), lawsuits (1 Corinthians 6:1), and idolatry (1 Corinthians 10:14). The bloggers and memoir writers would have had a field day with the Corinthian church! The church was an absolute carnival of dysfunction.

And yet God continued to preserve his church.

The Galatian church was deserting the true gospel for a false gospel (Galatians 1:6). The Barna group would have released a study indicating that 75% of the Galatians preferred the false gospel to the true gospel.

And yet God continued to preserve his church.

The Colossians were getting hoodwinked by philosophy and empty deceit (Colossians 2:8). The Hebrews were in danger of drifting back to the old ways of Judaism (Hebrews 2:1). The churches in Asia Minor were being swayed by teachers who denied the divinity of Christ (1 John 2:22).

And yet God continued to preserve his church.

The gospel essentially disappeared for several hundred years while the Catholic church filled its treasuries with money gained from the sale of indulgences.

And yet God continued to preserve his church.

The church has survived the likes of Apollonius, Arius, Nestorius, Noetus, Marcion, Monatus, Pelagius, Joseph Smith, Robert Shuler, and Benny Hinn.

Will Millennials continue to leave the church at an “alarming” rate? Probably. Will various denominations continue to abandon sound doctrine and make concessions to the culture? Sure. Will prosperity preachers like Joel Osteen and Creflo Dollar continue to sucker people in with their message of “Everything is Awesome”? Yes. Will the Barna group release more surveys indicating that everything is going to pieces and the end is nigh? I suppose.

But the church will continue. Not because of its innovative new models or awesome new leaders. The church will survive because Jesus is firmly committed to the church. The church is his bride, and he will not let his bride slip away.

Jesus said:

I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it…

I’m pretty sure he intends to make good on those words.


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.


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.


How to Make Your Church a Safe Place for Sinners

In recent years, there has been an explosion of websites which allow people to anonymously confess their deepest, darkest secrets. The website “Post Secret” allows people to send in anonymous post cards with dark secrets written on them, which are then posted publicly on the website. Recently, a slew of “confessional” apps have been released, all with the same purpose in mind: allowing people to get stuff off their chest. The app “Whisper” lets folks anonymously unburden themselves and then receive the support of the Whisper community. Some of these secrets are humorous. Most of them are sad and even disturbing.

Why are these websites and apps so popular? Because every person is overwhelmed by living in a fallen world. Everyone is crushed by the sinful baggage they’re carrying around.

A guy is struggling with his sexual orientation but doesn’t want to tell anyone, so he shares it anonymously. A woman is being destroyed by bulimia but can’t bear the thought of letting the secret out into the open, so she puts it up on Whisper in hope of some support. A guy doesn’t know how to handle his recent breakup, so he goes looking for help online. Everyone is living in quiet desperation. Desperate for hope. Desperate for encouragement. Desperate for light in a dark world.

If there is one place where it should be safe to tell secrets, it should be the church. Apps like Whisper can offer only the slightest, fleeting consolation. We can offer Christ, the one who forgives our darkest sins and gives us power to overcome them. Anonymous apps can only offer anonymous comfort. We can offer real shoulders to cry upon, a real community to receive support from, and real help in desperate times. Post Secret offers the temporary Novocain of anonymous confession. We can offer the forgiveness of God, which comes through true confession.

Of course, this raises the question: Are our churches safe places for confession?

Would a homosexual or bulimic or cutter or high-functioning pain-killer addict feel comfortable talking about their battles in our churches? I suspect that in many cases, the answer is “no.” This shouldn’t be the case.

The church is not a fitness center where people come to improve themselves. It’s a hospital where deathly ill people meet with the Great Physician. The church isn’t an advanced placement class for all the smart kids. It’s “Remedial Life” for those who don’t have it together. The church is where battered, beaten, broken-down, helpless sinners come to receive grace and strength. I love how Steve Brown puts it:

I’m just a beggar telling other beggars where to find bread.

So how do we make our churches safe? Two simple suggestions.

1) Pastors, talk about specific sins from the pulpit.

One of the primary tasks of pastoral ministry is helping people see how the gospel connects to and is the answer to particular struggles and sins. When you prepare your sermon, do the work of connecting the dots between the gospel and a variety of sins. And when I say “variety,” I really do mean a large variety. Don’t limit yourself to the normal sins of anger, impatience, or fear. Also connect the gospel to sexual desires, eating disorders, drug addiction, cutting, embezzlement, and the many other sins Jesus died for on the cross. There are people in your congregation who struggle with these things, and if you don’t help them see the hope of the gospel, they’ll be overwhelmed with discouragement.

2) Church members, talk about your specific sins in your small groups.

Obviously this needs to be done with kid gloves, discernment, and a big dose of wisdom. There are some things that are only appropriate to share with a close friend. You get my point.

But when possible, open up about your own struggles. Let people see that you’re a messed up person who desperately needs Jesus. Let people see that even though you’re a jacked-up sinner, you don’t despair because you have Jesus. When the opportunity presents itself, open up about how Jesus has helped you in the midst of your struggles and messiness. In doing so, you’ll give hope to those who are burdened by their secrets.

When Jesus informed the woman at the well that she was a serial adulterer, she didn’t shut him down or run away from him. Instead, she brought the entire town to meet him. Why? Because Jesus offered her eternal life. He offered himself to her as the solution for her inability to keep a marriage together. He gave her hope where she had no hope.

Let’s offer people the same hope, week after week. Let’s turn our churches into restful havens for weary, broken-down sinners.


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


The Forgetfulness that Leads to Depression

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed that certain things about me are changing. It’s not as easy to stay healthy as it once was. In my youth, I was able to eat entire sleeves of Oreos without the slightest repercussion. Now, if I even look at an Oreo I immediately gain five pounds. I also feel exponentially more tired than I did when I was younger. I suspect this is because I have children. Those parenting books that tell you what to “expect” when you have kids should list exhaustion first. Nobody told me about the blunt-force exhaustion of having three young children.

Perhaps most the most concerning change I see in myself is that I’m becoming increasingly cynical and jaded as I get older. I was pretty naïve when I was younger. I didn’t realize just how full of suffering and sadness life can be. The older I get, the more I’m aware of how royally life can suck. I’ve seen brain cancer rob a family of a husband and dad. I’ve seen fellow Christians turn on each other and treat one another in the most horrific ways. I’ve seen my sister endure constant, chronic migraines. I’ve personally dealt with a massive amount of physical anxiety.

In the midst of life’s bitterness, it’s so easy to drift toward depression. Now, just to be clear, when I talk about depression here, I’m not talking about clinical depression that is physically based and should be treated in appropriate medical ways. No, I’m talking about depression of the soul. That sick, sour, cynical disposition that leads me to see all things through gray lenses. That constant discouragement that I try to numb with television and Facebook and anything else I can use to distract myself. That feeling that it will always be winter and never Christmas.

What is it that causes this depression of the soul in me? A large part of it is forgetfulness.

I recently read Psalm 42:6

My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you.

The Psalmist was cast down and discouraged. He was worn out with life. He didn’t have any gas left. So what his solution? To remember God. 

If there is no God, then I have every reason to be depressed. If there is no God, I have every reason to think that things will continue in a downward spiral. Atheists have cornered the market on despondency.

But there is a God, and he is my God! There is a God, and he is not silent! There is a God, and he is living and active, at work in my life and in the lives of everyone around me. God is at work in me and for me, ordaining all circumstances for my good and his glory (Romans 8:28). He is at work in the world, moving all things toward his ultimate goal of filling the earth with his glory (Habakuk 2:14). He is at work in me, transforming me from one degree of glory to the next (2 Corinthians 3:18), and he is at work in the world, preparing to unite all things in Christ (Ephesians 1:10).

God is not distant. He is very, very busy.

Are you discouraged and depressed? Are you worn out, beaten down, out of gas, frustrated, cynical, or angry? Follow the example of the Psalmist: remember God. Remember who God is and what he has promised to do in your life. When the Psalmist was discouraged, he told his soul to get it together:

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.

It’s as if the Psalmist is saying to himself, “Why are you so discouraged? You know the living God who works incredible deeds on behalf of his people. You know the God who split the Red Sea and spoke the universe into existence. Put your hope in him and quit being such a panty waist!”

Are you discouraged because you’re still single after all these years? Hope in God! Are your kids sucking the life out of you to the point where you want to send them to boarding school? Hope in God! Are you pastoring a church full of critical people who are never satisfied with you? Hope in God! Is your budget stretched too thin, like bread scraped over too much butter? Hope in God.

This is not a simplistic, reductionist solution. This is not just Christian talk. This is our lifeline in a dark and depressing world.

If there is no God, we have every right to live a depressed and discouraged life. But there is a God, and he is our God.

As Charles Spurgeon said:

I am the subject of depression so fearful that I hope none of you ever get to such extremes of wretchedness as I go to. But I always get back again by this—I know that I trust Christ. I have no reliance but in him, and if he falls, I shall fall with him. But if he does not, I shall not. Because he lives, I shall live also, and I spring to my legs again and fight with my depressions of spirit and get the victory through it. And so may you do, and so you must, for there is no other way of escaping from it.


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


Do I Want My Wife to be a Proverbs 31 Woman? Sorta

Ahhh, yes. The Proverbs 31 woman. The Holy Grail of biblical femininity. She is the Wonder Woman of Scripture, the unstoppable female juggernaut who conquers life with little or no difficulty. No woman has inspired more books, ministries, blogs, conferences, devotionals, mugs, feelings of guilt, and self-loathing than her.

In the early years of our marriage, Jen felt burdened by Proverbs 31. She felt unable to live up to the pristine example of womanhood on display in that chapter. The shadow of Proverbs 31 hung over all that she did. So we sat down and talked through what it really looked like to be a Proverbs 31 woman.

What did we come up with? Do I want Jen to be a Proverbs 31 woman? Does Jen want to be a Proverbs 31 woman? Yes. Sort of. Kind of. Perhaps I should explain.

Proverbs 31:10–31, as with every other passage in Scripture, needs to be interpreted in light of its context and authorial intent. In other words, we need to read these verses as the author originally intended them to be read. To quote me in junior high school: “No doi.”

So, what is the original intent of Proverbs 31?

First, it’s a poem of praise to an excellent wife. Verses 29–31 say, “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all. Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.”

Proverbs 31 is not a moral checklist for us husbands to use as a grading sheet for our wives. Rather, it is a checklist of ways we can encourage and praise our wives. When Jen does good to me (verse 12), which she constantly does, I can encourage her that God is at work in her life and praise her for how she is responding to God’s work. When she does the hard work of finding good deals on clothes for our kids (verse 21), I can shower encouragement upon her. When she makes a killer meal, I respond with gratefulness.

Husbands, listen up: if you are using Proverbs 31 as a diagnostic godliness checklist for your wife, you are misusing the passage and hurting your wife. These verses are not a cattle prod for a husband to use to goad his wife toward godliness. These verses are a springboard for a husband to shower encouragement on his wife. If you’re using these verses as a checklist, read them again and let them serve as a swift punch to the throat.

So, does that mean the moral qualities espoused in Proverbs 31 don’t matter at all? Of course not. But we need to think carefully about what it means to really apply these verses.

Proverbs 31 are principles to be pursued, NOT practices to be prescribed. 

Take a closer look. Verse 15 says, “She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and portions for her maidens.” What is being described here? A woman who is diligent in caring for her entire family. It is not prescribing a time to wake up, a system of recipe planning, a particular diet, or anything else. The takeaway? A godly woman seeks to be diligent in caring for her family. How that plays itself out will look a thousand different ways in a thousand different families. If a family has special needs, the wife may need to be diligently care for the special needs child while the husband cooks dinner. You get the point. If you want to wake up at 6 AM to bake fresh bread, wonderful. Just don’t do it out of a sense of guilt.

Consider verse 16: “She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.” The principle at work here? Prudence. A godly woman uses prudence as she works within the confines of her family income. This verse has nothing to say about who does the budget, who sets spending limits, or anything like that. Those practices, which flow out of the prudence principle, will look different in every family. In some families, the wife will have a better head for numbers and therefore watch the budget. In other families, the husband will be the one on budget duty. But the principle remains the same: a godly woman uses prudence.

One more. “She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy” (verse 20). A godly woman is generous toward those in need. That’s the principle. This verse doesn’t mean that a woman needs to knit sweaters for the homeless or serve in soup kitchens, good as those things may be. It just means that a godly woman looks for ways to bless the needy. That’s it.

When we turn Proverbs 31 into a checklist to be rigidly followed, we crush the women in our churches. After all, the woman described in Proverbs 31 never sleeps! She rises early and her light doesn’t go out at night. If a woman tries to literally follow all that is listed in Proverbs 31, she will crash and burn.

I want Jen to be a Proverbs 31 woman in the sense that she is seeking to obey the principles laid out in those verses (and she is—heroically!). But I don’t want Jen to be constantly haunted by the sense that she isn’t measuring up to God’s commands. That isn’t how God wants Proverbs 31 to function in Jen’s life.

And what if you find yourself not even close to the principles described in Proverbs 31? Remember: you’re a great sinner and Jesus is a great Savior. God doesn’t love you because you’re superwoman; he loves you because Jesus obey every principle and practice. You can rest in that.


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


Stop Blaming Your Lack of Worship on Your Worship Leader

About once a year, someone will write a lengthy, semi-disgusted post about the awful state of modern worship. Like a prosecuting attorney making closing arguments, they will systematically list why they can’t sing at church anymore. These posts inevitably get passed around, and the author receives a bunch of virtual high-fives from other disgruntled worshipers (that’s an oxymoron if I ever heard one).

But is the worship itself really the problem? Unless your worship leader is leading in you hymns and praise-choruses to the goddess Mother Earth, I don’t think the worship is the problem. The complaints against modern worship usually go something like this:

IT’S TOO LOUD

“The band is so loud I can barely hear myself think, let alone sing!” It is true that the primary instrument heard in worship should be our voices. But the reality is, there is a lot of really, really loud worship in the Bible. Revelation 5:11–12 gives us a glimpse into the worship that is currently 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!”

When myriads and myriads join with thousands and thousands, it is loud, raucous, joyful, celebratory worship. The worship in heaven makes the Seattle Seahawks “12th Man” look like a Lutheran worship service (sorry, couldn’t resist).

Our worship services should include soft, reverential music AND loud, celebratory music. God doesn’t oppose loudness when the decibels are directed at him.

IT’S TOO SIMPLE/REPETITIVE

“These modern praise choruses are so boring and repetitive! It’s the same thing over and over and over. Whatever happened to the good old days of five verses and descending antiphonal harmonies?”

It’s true, some modern worship songs could use a little more substance (“I could sing of this song forever…”). But the Bible contains plenty of simple, repetitive worship songs. Psalm 136 contains the refrain, “… for his steadfast love endures forever,” 26 times! Psalm 117 is a grand total of two lines.

As John Frame says:

This variety [in the Psalms] should make us less critical of hymns that we may think are too simple, too long, too short, and so on. There is room in God’s worship for hymns of many kinds—for many purposes, many different kinds of people, and many learning styles. (Worship In Spirit and Truth, pg. 136)

In 2 Peter 1:13, Peter writes, “I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder….”

One of the values of repetition and simplicity is that it allows us to grapple with truths in ways we can’t when we are moving quickly through multiple verses of substantial depth. We so easily forget eternal truths, and repetition and reminder drill God’s truth deeply into our hearts.

Our worship services should include songs with words like “bulwark” and “Ebenezer,” but they should also include simple, easily understandable songs.

NOBODY KNOWS THE SONGS

“These young punk worship leaders are always introducing new songs. What’s wrong with the hundreds of songs that have already been written?”

To again quote John Frame (can you tell I’m on a Frame kick?):

When there is another revival, bringing another large group of people into the church, the music of that generation will also be brought in, once again offending older generations. (Worship In Spirit and Truth, pg 116)

In other words, when God moves in powerful, salvific ways on a group of people, those people bring their musical styles into the church. They write new songs that express their gratefulness to God for all he has done for them. The work of God in Christ is so great that no one body of songs can sufficiently express it. There must always be new songs written to express the truth of what God has accomplished in Christ.

God is constantly on the move, saving people, changing people, renewing people. The songs that have come from Passion, Hillsong, Sovereign Grace Music, Sojourn, and many other movements were written in response to God’s work.

We should treasure the old songs that have been written while simultaneously welcoming new songs that express praise to God.

SO WHAT IS THE PROBLEM?

If we have a problem with worship, most likely the problem resides within us. It’s not that complicated. If we’re not responding in worship, something has gone awry in our souls. The simple solution is to repent, receive the free forgiveness of God, and then dive headlong back into worship.


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


Children’s Bible + Faithful Discipline Does NOT Equal Salvation

I recently had someone ask me to try to answer the question of why so many young people are leaving the church. Yikes. Talk about a large, loaded, deep question. After this, I’ll take on the issue of life on Mars. But I’ll give it my best shot.

While there are others who are certainly more qualified to answer that question, I did grow up in church and have seen many of my friends leave the church, so I may have a bit of insight into the question. I’ve seen friends get hooked on heroin, get entangled in sexual affairs, get slapped with handcuffs, renounce God, and turn their backs on all things Jesus. Why does this happen?

I don’t have any shiny bar graphs or fancy regression analyses. I don’t have a Barna survey of 1,000 angsty, disaffected youth. I don’t have a three-ring binder full of demographic data about today’s youth.

But I’m not sure I need all those things, helpful as they are. I think the answer as to why the church is hemorrhaging young people might be simpler than we think.

It’s all about the affections. 

We no longer have a commonly accepted morality. People don’t go to church just because their parents went to church. “The Bible tells me so” doesn’t mean much any more. We live in a society that increasingly locates ultimate authority within ourselves. My desires and my biology and my dreams are the ultimate authority. As long as what I want doesn’t hurt anyone else, it’s okay. You can’t tell me what to do, and I can’t tell you what to do. Keep your morality out of my bedroom. To quote Sheryl Crow, “If it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad.”

We may be able to keep our kids sheltered from this blunt-force existentialism for a while, but eventually they will come to a crossroads of intellect and desire. They will experience strong desires that run counter to what they have been taught at church and in the home. The idea of “it’s wrong” can only hold out so long against the onslaught of desires. If the mind thinks it’s wrong but the heart isn’t so convinced, the heart will win in the end.

I know a young woman who lived with her boyfriend for many years before she got married. She knew it was wrong. Her dad had faithfully instructed her in the ways of the Lord, but her desires trumped her knowledge. I know a pastor’s kid who got sucked into porn and drugs and bunch of other stuff. His dad had done all the “right things.” Desires won.

So, what is the solution? First and foremost, we depend totally on the Holy Spirit to cause our children to become born again. I can’t cause Charis, Ella, or Gwendolyn to become Christians. Salvation is not some sort of mathematical formula, where good input always equals good output. Jesus Story Book Bible + Faithful Discipline + Shepherding a Child’s Heart = Salvation. Salvation is a work of God. God must save my kids.

If we don’t want our kids to leave the church, the best thing we can do is pray, pray, and pray some more. We must pray that God causes their hearts to become alive with holy affections.

Additionally, we need to dazzle our kids with Jesus. I don’t want to simply import biblical information into my kids, as if I’m installing a computer program. I want them to see that Jesus is better, sweeter, and more precious than anything else in life. I want them to see that their daddy loves Jesus with all his heart. I want them to hear me talk about how grateful I am that Jesus is my righteousness. I want them to understand the preciousness of grace. More than anything else, I want my children’s affections to be stirred up by Jesus.

As James K.A. Smith says in Desiring the Kingdom:

Being a disciple of Jesus is not primarily a matter of getting the right ideas and doctrines and beliefs into your head in order to guarantee proper behavior; rather, it’s a matter of being the kind of person who loves rightly—who loves God and neighbor and is oriented to the world by the primacy of that love.

 Let’s help them to love rightly.

Charles Spurgeon said:

I am afraid that many Sunday school addresses have no gospel in them. I do not see why the same gospel should not be preached to children as to grown-up people. I think it should. To stand up in a Sunday school and say, “Now be good boys and girls and God will love you” is telling lies.

It’s easy for our parenting and our Sunday school teaching to become nothing more than moral instruction. Be good. Do this. Don’t do this. When we teach this way, we reduce God to nothing more than a rule giver and we suck all the sweetness out of the gospel.

Let’s go the other way. Let’s dazzle our kids with Jesus.


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


We’re Asking the Wrong Question When We Go to Church

It’s a phrase I’ve said or thought many times. Church is over, I’m sitting at home eating lunch, and I think to myself, I didn’t really get much out of church this morning. The worship leader was wearing a loud, distracting plaid shirt, that looked like an Amish quilt and a neon sign had been thrown into a blender and then reassembled at American Eagle. We also sang that one song that I really don’t like—the one that repeats the chorus over and over and over, like some sort of druid chant. And the sermon… well, it definitely could’ve been better. I mean, it was Bible and Jesus and something about holiness, but the pastor definitely can’t preach like Matt Chandler.

What did I get out of church?

Have you ever asked that question? I suspect you have.

After all, in our, “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?” culture, it’s hard to not be self-centered in our spiritual lives. We want to make sure that we’re being fed, built-up, and connected when we come to church. And we live in a world that is filled with reviews and evaluations. I loved the shrimp and grits at John’s Seafood Shack and gave the place five stars on Yelp! I had an awful customer service experience, and I told all my friends on Facebook (I actually did this recently, but don’t ask me about it because I get angry every time I tell the story). It’s easy to treat church like any other consumer experience.

It’s interesting though, that when we look at Scripture, we find very few details regarding the things we should get from church. Rather, we find lots of details about what we should bring to church.

In 1 Corinthians 14:26, Paul describes what a gathering should look like: “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.”

Paul describes church as a bunch of people coming together and giving themselves away. He expected that every one of the Corinthians would come prepared to give something, whether that be a hymn, lesson, revelation, tongue, or interpretation. For Paul, church was not a spectator sport. It was an all-hands-on-deck kind of thing. No slackers allowed. For Paul, the most important question wasn’t, “What can I get out of this gathering?” Rather, the most important question was, “What can I do that will build others up?”

In Ephesians 4:11–12, Paul says, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ….”

It can be tempting to think that ministry is the stuff done by pastors, worship leaders, and small group leaders. We let them do the work while we sit back and watch. But the passage from Ephesians makes it clear that ministry is done by every Christian. Pastors and teachers are called to arm the saints for ministry, and then the saints are to go into the battlefields. The most important question isn’t, “What am I getting out of this ministry?” The most important question is, “What ministry am I doing?”

John Frame puts it this way:

Worshipers should not take a passive attitude toward worship, such as we usually take toward entertainment. As we have seen, worship is a priestly service. It is latreia, “labor, service.” Therefore, we should go to church to do something: to bring praise to God and to minister to one another. This perspective should make us less concerned about what we “get out of” worship and more concerned about what we contribute to God and to our brothers and sisters. (Worship In Spirit and Truth, pg. 80)

Obviously, it’s important that we attend a church which allows us to experience biblical preaching, fellowship, the sacraments, and all the other important parts of church. But if our main question after every service is, “What did I get out of it?” we’re asking the wrong question.

It’s time to be all in.


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


A New Convert’s Guide to Understanding Christian Code Words

Congratulations on getting saved! Now that you’re a Christian, there are a few things you really should know. First, you must listen to the songs “Secret Ambition” and “Jesus Freak.” These two songs will come up a lot in conversations, and have the potential to make you a lot of friends. Familiarize yourself with them. Be ready to lip sync to them on demand.

Second, get used to drinking awful coffee. Since the very first meetings in Jerusalem, Christians have insisted on drinking coffee that tastes like scalding hot paint thinner. It is one of the trials and tribulations we must endure.

Finally, learn the Christian code words. What you may not have realized is we have our own special code language. If you’re going to communicate with other Christians, you need to memorize our code words and their definitions. What exactly are these code words? I’m glad you asked. What follows is a guide to understanding Christian-speak. Think of this as the Rosetta of the Christian world.

TERMS AND DEFINITIONS

Story – Most people think of a story as something contained within a book. Oh, how wrong they are! All of us have a story, and each of our stories is important. Your story (also called “Journey” or “Road”) includes: all your life experiences, the most recent book you’ve read, your friends (even though they have their own stories, they’re also part of your story), your Moleskine journal (in which you record thoughts about your story), that one mission trip which was a defining moment in your story, and the existential crisis you had in college (the dark part of your story). Get used to referring to every experience as being a part of your “story.”

Traveling Mercies  – Contrary to popular opinion, “Traveling Mercies” is not the name of a Rich Mullins cover band. Rather, traveling mercies refers to divine mercies which, oddly enough, can only be found on highways and in airplanes. No matter how much you ask, you simply cannot get traveling mercies for a trip to the grocery store. “Regular mercies” covers that. However, if you fail to ask for traveling mercies prior to a long trip (not to be confused with “Journey”), there is a 95% chance your car engine will catch on fire.

Echo – You’re in a prayer meeting, it’s your turn to pray, and your mind goes blank! What do you do? Don’t panic. You simply “echo” what the person before you prayed. To echo another person’s prayer, simply take their exact words, add the word “just” to the beginning, and add the words “really asking this” to the end. This simple tactic will rescue you out of every prayer jam (not to be confused with a Prayer Jam, which is praying to hip-hop music).

Do Life – Christians don’t simply live life. No sir, we do life! And don’t you DARE confuse the two. Living life is boring and shallow, while doing life involves thrilling, exciting, awesome things, like Wednesday night Bible studies.

In This Place – This is a phrase included in many of our prayers as a way of making sure God knows exactly where we are located. We want God to bless us, in this place. We don’t want him to accidentally fire his blessings into the church down the street, so we alert him to our precise location. Think of this as the GPS of Christianity.

Authenticity – Ahh yes, authenticity, the Bigfoot of Christianity. Everyone talks about it and searches for it, but no one has ever actually seen it. I suspect this is what Bono (our favorite maybe-Christian) was referencing when he discussed not being able to find what he was looking for. It is essential that you always be looking for new ways to be authentic, regardless of whether you actually know what authenticity is. There is a theory that authenticity can be achieved by drinking coffee out of a Mason jar, but that theory has not been definitively proved yet.

Hedge of Protection – What is the strongest thing in the world? Titanium? Diamond? Kevlar? Nope, hedges. That’s why we pray for a hedge of protection to surround us. The “Hedge Prayer” (as theologians commonly call it) is usually prayed in conjunction with the “Traveling Mercies” prayer. We want to be surrounded by a hedge while simultaneously being granted traveling mercies. To be safe, always pray the two prayers together. There is anecdotal evidence that praying for a hedge of protection without also praying for traveling mercies can cause spontaneous combustion. Be cautious.

Love On – When someone is going through a tough time, we don’t simply love them. We love ON them. Granted, to the average observer, this term sounds vaguely creepy and stalker-like, but it most certainly is not creepy. Loving a person involves sending them a condolence card. Loving ON a person involves gallons of sweet tea, a five-pound green bean casserole, a book written by Beth Moore, and a coffee mug with the “Footprints” prayer on it. We take care of our own. Kind of like the mob, except without killing people or putting horse heads in people’s beds.

Altar Call – An altar call is something that happens at the end of emotionally charged church services. It is an opportunity for you to rededicate your life to the Lord for the 42nd time. Never miss out on the chance to go forward for an altar call, especially if the band is playing “Just As I Am.”

On Mission – This is kind of like the Red Bull consuming cousin of “Do Life.” We don’t simply invite people to church, share the gospel, and seek to bless our neighbors. We are on MISSION! It’s like Mission Impossible, minus the cool gadgets and crazy terrorists and Tom Cruise sprinting for forty-five minutes straight. If you really want to impress your friends, you will inform them that you are both missional and on mission. This is like being able to play both offense and defense in football. No one can stop you.

Hopefully this gives you a glimpse into the world of Christian code words. You are at the beginning of a journey, and your story is just beginning. If you stay focused on authenticity and being missional, you will most certainly get blessed in this place.


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