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Stephen Altrogge

  • 3 Crucial Things Single People Need To Know

    Ahh yes, the single years. Those carefree years between high-school and marriage when a young person can do all those crazy, bucket-list things they want to do. Backpack across Europe. Trek the through the Amazon. Go skydiving. Live in a big city. Live in a commune. Go Paleo. Go vegan. All while recording every moment on a GoPro camera and drinking Corona beer.

    Our culture tells us that the single years are supposed to be an adventure. A time of fun and craziness and exploration before we settle down for the boring life of marriage, kids, and all that jazz. To sow our wild oats (if you happen to be Amish). To quote the prophet Ricky Martin, the single years are for, “Livin’ la viva [vida?] loca.”

    Right?

    Well… sort of… not really. After working with a lot of single men and women over the years, there are certain principles and practices (hopefully derived from Scripture!) that I would encourage single folks to develop which will serve them for many years into the future. These practices aren’t particularly exciting or thrilling, but I believe they’re extremely valuable.

    So what would I tell single guys and gals? Three things.

    USE YOUR TIME STRATEGICALLY

    When you’re single, you have more free time than when you’re married with kids. Don’t waste that free time. Don’t assume that your free time is all for you and all about you. God didn’t give you free time in order that you might check off every item on your bucket list.

    Your free time is a gift from God, to be used for the glory of God, in order that God might be made famous. When you’re single, use your free time strategically, investing it in kingdom ventures. Your free time is like a Wall Street asset which is only valuable for a limited amount of time. Invest your time with the same thought and strategy a stock trader invests money. Strive for maximum eternal returns!

    In 1 Corinthians 7:32–34 Paul says:

    I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided.

    When you’re single, you’re free from family anxieties. You don’t have to worry about health insurance for your kids, or getting your kids to school on time, or making time for weekly date nights. Your interests are not divided.

    Because your interests are not divided, you can invest your free time in single-minded, strategic ways, which will increase the fame of Jesus. You can spend more time studying theology. You can serve a married couple by babysitting their kids (hint, hint). You can lead two, or even three Bible studies. You can start a prison ministry. You can dive deep into thick theological books.

    It’s not wrong to backpack across Europe or spend a summer at Yellowstone National Park. But remember, your single years are an asset you’ll never have again.

    USE YOUR MONEY STRATEGICALLY

    Singles, please listen to me: the financial choices you make when you’re single can reverberate for years throughout your marriage. Financial institutions and credit card companies make it so easy to accumulate a mountain of debt during the single years. Need a college loan? No problem? Need some spare cash so that you can go out to eat with your buddies? No problem! Want to take a trip to France between semesters? You got it! Just sign on the dotted line.

    And guess what? You don’t even have to pay back the money until you’re out of college! It’s like Christmas during your freshman year!

    Unfortunately, most single people don’t understand how significant debt really is. I’ve known guys who had to delay their entrance into pastoral ministry due to the staggering debt they were carrying. I’ve had friends who had to delay having kids because they couldn’t afford to have kids and pay down their debt at the same time. I’ve had friends who couldn’t purchase a house because of the amount of debt they carried.

    Let me make it loud and clear: the financial choices you make when you are single have a direct effect on your ability to serve the Lord when you are married. 

    Your ability to minister, be fruitful, be hospitable, go on church plants, fund missionaries, and serve the poor is directly connected to the wise or unwise choices you make when you’re single.

    So please, be wise. If you don’t understand how money works, get a financial mentor. Spend your money wisely. Knock your debts out as quickly as possible. Avoid debt when possible. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

    Do you want to be fruitful when you are married? Be frugal when you are single.

    USE YOUR GIFTS STRATEGICALLY

    The single years are a fantastic time to hone your spiritual gifts in a concentrated way. Do you have the gift of leadership? Ask your pastor to give you as many leadership opportunities as he is willing. Do you have the gift of hospitality? Open up your house every week. Do you have the gift of generosity? Live frugally and give generously. Do you have the gift of mercy? Pour yourself into a local soup kitchen or prison ministry.

    Marriage and children are absolutely wonderful, but they place distinct limitations on the amount of time you can devote to honing your spiritual gifts. I need to provide food and clothes and beds for my children, which limits the amount of money I can give to my local church. I’m really grateful that I had the opportunity to hone my leadership and worship leading skills while I was single.

    SO NOW WHAT?

    The single years are certainly a time for fun and exploration, but the reality is, the single years only last for so long. Don’t waste your single years. Don’t fritter them away. Don’t cripple yourself with brutal debt. Use them strategically in order to position yourself for future fruitfulness.


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

  • Are You a Stumbling Block to Others?

    You really shouldn’t watch that movie. You really shouldn’t listen to that music. You really shouldn’t read that book. You really shouldn’t drive a car that expensive. You really shouldn’t wear a purse like that. You really shouldn’t allow your kids to read Harry Potter. You really shouldn’t go to that bar to eat wings.

    Oh, I didn’t realize. How come?

    Because other people think it’s wrong. You might be a stumbling block to them.

    This kind of exchange happens pretty often between Christians. We tell other Christians not to do certain things because they might become a stumbling block to someone else. Or we refrain from doing certain things because we are afraid we might become a stumbling block. The only problem is most of us aren’t exactly sure what it means to be a stumbling block.

    So what exactly does scripture mean when it talks about causing someone else to stumble?

    Let me start by saying what it does not mean. Doing something which other people think is wrong does not necessarily make you a stumbling block. I’m talking about areas not clearly spelled out in scripture. Lying, cheating, slandering, stealing, and sexual immorality are all clearly sin. I’m talking about gray areas here.

    Paul clearly addresses the whole idea of being a stumbling block in 1 Corinthians 8. The issue at hand is food offered to idols. The Corinthians, with their “superior” knowledge, knew that idols were not the true God. This knowledge led them to insist that it was perfectly fine for them to eat food offered to idols.

    Paul, however, was concerned for those who had been saved out of idol worship. For these people, eating food offered to idols was akin to idol worship itself. And so Paul says to the Corinthians:

    But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. (1 Corinthians 8:9-11)

    Paul’s concern IS NOT that someone may see the Corinthians eating meat offered to idols and then assume the Corinthians are in sin. Paul’s concern is that a fellow believer may join the Corinthians in eating food offered to idols, even though it goes against his conscience. Paul is ultimately concerned that the Corinthians will encourage fellow believers to act against their consciences.

    Let me put a modern day spin on it. Generally speaking, I do not think it is wrong to smoke cigars (within reason, attending to all the appropriate health concerns, making sure you don’t get addicted, etc.) You however, are convinced that smoking cigars is wrong. Do I have to stop all cigar smoking because I know you think I am doing something wrong? No. Scripture doesn’t forbid smoking cigars. My liberty in Christ is not restricted simply by what other people might think of me.

    But (and this is really important), if I smoke a cigar around you and that in turn leads you to smoke a cigar, even though you think it is sin, then I have become a stumbling block. My liberty in Christ has actually encouraged you to sin against your conscience. When our “rights” lead others to act against their consciences, we have become stumbling blocks.

    This is why Paul says:

    Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. (1 Corinthians 8:13)

    Love for my brothers in Christ guides and restrains my liberty in Christ. If smoking a cigar or watching a movie or listening to an album or reading a book will lead you to violate your conscience, then I will cheerfully give up that right when I am with you. Love always triumphs over liberty. Unity always triumphs over personal rights.

    We are free to enjoy whatever scripture does not forbid. If a person thinks we’re wrong, so what? However, our freedom must always be wrapped in concern and care for others. If our freedom actually leads someone else to violate their conscience then we have become a stumbling block.

    So let’s eat and drink and not eat and drink for the glory of God.


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

  • 3 Simple Ways to Bless the Socks off Your Pastor

    Contrary to the popular conception of the pastor who only works one day a week (see Reverend Lovejoy from The Simpsons), real pastoral ministry is tough, draining, and emotionally taxing. It’s not for the faint of heart. It requires a unique combination of battle toughness and fatherly tenderness. A pastor is closely connected to the lives of the people he serves, and vicariously experiences both the joy and heartbreak that his people experience. When a young man gets married, the pastor rejoices. When the same young man gets cancer, the pastor is heartbroken. When a couple has a child, the pastor is elated. When the same couple gets divorced five years later, the pastor is heartbroken.

    Given the unique challenges of pastoral ministry, pastors desperately need encouragement. Encouragement is what keeps the pastor going. Encouragement is fuel for the pastoral engine. It’s like a spiritual adrenaline shot.

    Because I’m not currently a pastor, I can write this post, which, in the past, would have seemed self-serving. So how can you encourage your pastor? Here are some simple ways.

    PAY CLOSE ATTENTION TO HIS SERMONS, THEN THANK HIM FOR SPECIFIC ASPECTS OF HIS SERMONS

    Preaching is a funny thing. A pastor can spend anywhere between 10 to 30 hours on a sermon. This sermon prep involves prayerfully wrestling through difficult passages (have you ever tried explaining Revelation?), figuring out how best to apply the passage to everyday life (what does an Ethiopian eunuch have in common with a stay-at-home mom?), and organizing the sermon in a coherent manner. On Sunday he stands up in front of his congregation and pours himself out for forty minutes, and then it’s over. Thirty hours of prep for a forty-minute sermon. And he has to do the same thing again next week, and the week after that, and the week after that. It’s a joyful, exhausting, delighful, brutal grind.

    If you want to bless your pastor, thank him very specifically for each sermon. Don’t simply say, “Lovely sermon, pastor.” Instead, thank him for specific phrases, specific application points, and specific ways God used the sermon to change and challenge you. This specific encouragement will echo in his mind as he prepares his next sermon. Pay close attention, then thank your pastor specifically.

    CHEERFULLY SUPPORT YOUR PASTOR’S LEADERSHIP

    This doesn’t mean that you blindly support your pastor, no matter what decision he makes. This isn’t 1984, groupthink, follow-the-leader kind of support. It simply means that you maintain a general attitude of cheerful support toward your pastor, knowing that he is seeking to lead the church to the best of his ability, for the glory of God. I think this is the heart behind Hebrews 13:17, which says:

    Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

    Do you want your pastor to experience joy? Then cheerfully submit to his leadership. When you have the opportunity, thank your pastor for specific aspects of his leadership. Does your pastor place a strong leadership emphasis on sound doctrine? Thank him for that. Does your pastor place a strong leadership emphasis on evangelism? Thank him for that. Does your pastor place a strong leadership emphasis on mentoring others? Thank him for that. You can encourage your pastor by cheerfully supporting his leadership.

    TAKE LEADERSHIP INITIATIVE

    One of the things that constantly haunts pastors is the sense that there is always more to be done and not enough time to do it. There is more evangelism to be done, more Bible studies to be started, more homebound folks to visit, more community outreach to initiate. Most pastors are burdened by all they are leaving undone.

    If you want to bless the socks off of your pastor, take the initiative in ministry. Instead of asking your pastor to start more Bible studies, ask your pastor if you can start a Bible study. Instead of asking your pastor to create a prayer team, ask your pastor if you can start a prayer team. Instead of asking your pastor for more women’s ministry, ask your pastor if you can start a women’s ministry.

    The work of ministry is not primarily done by pastors; it’s done by the members of the church. Ephesians 4:11–12 tells us that the pastor is supposed to equip the people in his church for the work of ministry:

    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…

    Do you want to bless your pastor? Step up to the plate and take some initiative. Don’t blame your pastor for the absence of a particular ministry. Rather, be the one who starts that ministry.

    Trust me: your pastor is desperate for encouragement. Pastoral ministry is often done behind the scenes, with little or no thanks. And Satan loves to discourage pastors, because few things are more dangerous than a faith-filled, thoroughly encouraged pastor. Encourage your pastor today. It’s for your good and his.


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

  • How to REALLY Help Someone Change

    You’ve got this person in your life, and they really need to change. For years your husband has struggled with anger. For years your wife has struggled with self-control. For years your son has struggled with laziness. For years your daughter has struggled with body image issues. At this point, you don’t know how to help them move forward. You don’t know how to help them overcome the sin that has beset them for so long. You’re fed up, worn out, and pretty much hopeless. You’ve resigned yourself to things always being the way they are.

    What the heck are you supposed to do? Fortunately, the Bible gives us straightforward wisdom on how to really, actually help a person change. And odds are, the Bible’s wisdom probably runs contrary to your own ideas of how to help a person change. It certainly runs contrary to mine!

    So how can you help a person change?

    PRAY FOR THEM. REPEATEDLY. 

    We tend to get this wonky, thoroughly unbiblical idea in our minds, that we can actually change people. That by the force of our will, we can move a person from ungodliness to godliness. We think that if we get sufficiently angry, they will see our point and change. They will feel the force of our anger, come under the cutting conviction of the Holy Spirit, and repent. Of course, this is complete nonsense. We know this both from Scripture and from experience.

    James 1:19–20 makes this clear when it says:

    Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

    The harsh reality is that we cannot cause a person to change. No matter how angry we get, no matter how much we raise our voices, no matter how much huffing and puffing and blustering we do, we cannot cause a person to change. Only God can create true godliness in a person. Only God can bring about repentance. Only God can soften the heart.

    If God is the only one who can create change, then the absolute best thing we can do for a person is to pray for them. Not in a “God please change this person, because they are annoying the heck out of me” kind of way, but in a “God please change this person for their good and your glory” kind of way. Do you want someone to change? Pray for them! Constantly, repeatedly, without ceasing. Pray that God would bless them, fill them with joy, increase their knowledge of him. Pray that God would give them victory over their sin.

    Instead of criticizing the person you want to change, pray for them. For every one time you criticize, pray ten times! This is an area I have repeatedly failed in over my life. I have criticized far more than I have prayed. I want to change. I want my prayer to criticism ratio to be 10 to 1. Why? Because God really does change people when I pray. The best way to help a person really change is to pray for them.

    ENCOURAGE THEM. REPEATEDLY. 

    This sounds counterintuitive. If we want a person to change, encouragement certainly isn’t the answer, right? After all, if I encourage them, they’ll think everything is okay, and everything is NOT okay. They need to hear my criticisms, not my encouragement.

    But this isn’t how it works. The Biblical authors followed a very distinct pattern. Before bringing any criticism, they began with encouragement. The way Paul responded to the Corinthians is a prime example of this. The Corinthian church was an absolute circus. The church was embroiled in spiritual gifts mania, sexual immorality, defiling the sacraments, and a host of other problems. But Paul began his letter to the Corinthians by telling them how GRATEFUL he was for them!

    I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge—even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you—so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:4–9)

    Do you want to help a person change? Give thanks to God for them. Encourage them. Point out the areas where you see God at work in their life. We often fixate on a person’s weaknesses to the point where we miss all the good things God is doing in a person. Encouragement is fertilizer for spiritual growth. If you want a person to grow, pour encouragement onto them.

    CORRECT THEM. OCCASIONALLY

    There is a time for correction, but that correction should be occasional, and in line with 1 Thessalonians 5:14, which says, “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” Sometimes our correction will take the form of admonishment. Sometimes it will take the form of helping someone in their weakness. Sometimes it will take the form of a rebuke. But it will always be done with a spirit of patience. Not anger, not frustration, but patience.

    How do we help people really change? PRAY. ENCOURAGE. CORRECT. REPEAT.

    Too often we get the sequence of events backwards. We correct far more than we pray or encourage. The result? No change.


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

  • About 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.