Best Known Translations
Other Translations

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 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.


Let Your Light Shine Before...Facebook?

Maybe I’m just turning into a grumpy old man who harrumphs around the Internet, looking for kids he can yell at. Or maybe my heart is two times too small. Or maybe I just need to get outside more.

But actually, I think there may be something important at stake here.

I’m talking about the ever-increasing phenomenon of people speaking about their good works on social media.

“Had a wonderful conversation with my daughter tonight about her need for Jesus!”

“Shared the gospel with 8 different Muslims today, then prayed for their healing from sickness!”

“Caught my son praying for his sister this afternoon! #ProudDad”

To be clear, I get it. You had some sort of spiritual success, you feel like rejoicing, and you want others to rejoice with you. Or maybe you want to inspire other people to share the gospel like you do. Or maybe you’re just so grateful to see God at work in your children.

I don’t want to be the Debbie Downer / sin police, constantly looking for a parade to rain on. Despite what the watch bloggers tell you, that’s a really miserable way to live.

But it seems to me that, more and more, we’re ignoring Jesus’ command to do most of our good works in secret.

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:5-6)

Yes, Jesus did command us to let our good works shine before men so that they might praise God. But that command is primarily about letting our works shine before unbelievers so that they might see the glory of God shining in us. We do good works before the watching world so that they might know that God is real and that he changes lives.

But seriously, why does this even matter? Why do I care one iota about what someone does or doesn’t share on Facebook? Am I really that boring of a person that this is how I spend my time (answer: yes)?

This matters because our heavenly reward is at stake!

That was Jesus' point. By loudly and proudly doing their good works before men, the Pharisees sacrificed the reward they would have received from God. God rewards those good works that are done in secret. He rewards those good works that are done for an audience of one.

We’re trading heavenly rewards for “Likes”, which has to be the worst exchange ever conceived.

When we trumpet our good works on social media, there’s a good chance that we are, in some ways, sacrificing the reward we would receive from God.

We’re trading heavenly rewards for “Likes”, which has to be the worst exchange ever conceived.

Obviously, I’m not God. I don’t know exactly how God rewards us for the things done here on earth. But I do know that greatly rewards those works that no one ever sees.

I’m not going to tell you never to share about spiritual successes on social media. That would be idiotic and nitpicking. But I do wonder if we shouldn’t at least pause before we press “post”.

Likes, loves, and retweets are nice, but they can’t hold a candle to what is coming.


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


I Can Trust a God Who Has Suffered

It can be tough for me to trust politicians, especially when they try to relate to normal, everyday folks like myself. When Mitt Romney was campaigning against Barack Obama, one of the knocks on him was that he was fabulously rich. Could a fabulously rich guy really relate to the struggles of a middle-class family in Alabama or a low-income family in Detroit? Could a dude who jetted around in a private jet relate to folks who have to take public transportation? When Bill Clinton told an AIDS activist, “I feel your pain,” it was hard to take him seriously. Could Bill Clinton really relate to the pain of those afflicted by AIDS?

Simply put, it’s hard to trust a person who hasn’t experienced hardship. Hardship and suffering teach us lessons that can’t be learned any other way. Although it sounds terribly cliché, there really is such a thing as the school of hard knocks. The reason so many people loved Ulysses S. Grant was because he was a soldier who knew first hand the trials and terrors of war. One of the reasons people loved Abraham Lincoln was that he was a man of the people. He came from a poor, backwoods family, and he understood suffering and deprivation.

A person who has suffered understands the unique challenges and trials and pain that accompany suffering. We can trust the leadership of a person who has suffered.

These realities make Hebrews 2:18 a precious verse. Speaking of Jesus, it says, “For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”

Our God is not an isolated, insular, always comfortable God. Our God suffered.

Jesus suffered in ways we can’t even begin to fathom. He was rejected and mocked. He was called an illegitimate bastard. His own brothers made jokes about him. He experienced the sickness and suffering and sadness which permeate all of life. He had friends die. He worked until he was so exhausted that he fell asleep in the back of a boat. He experienced the full fury of Satan’s temptations. Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He did not have a comfortable, easy, pain-free life.

Because Jesus suffered and was tempted, he is perfectly equipped to help me when I am suffering or being tempted. Jesus knows what suffering feels like, he knows exactly what I need in order to honor God in the midst of my suffering, and he has all the power necessary to sustain me in the midst of my suffering. In my grief Jesus can supply me with grace. In my pain Jesus can supply me with perseverance. Jesus is the wonderful physician who has experienced sickness himself. He is the wonderful healer who knows first hand what pain feels like.

It’s hard to trust someone who has never suffered. Jesus has suffered, which makes him perfectly suited to help me. I can trust a God who has suffered.


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


You Can't Shame People Into Repentance

Social media has made us experts at shaming.

We see something outrageous on Facebook (which happens approximately every 3 minutes), and we immediately start lobbing shame grenades.

How could they do such a thing? What a lousy scumbag! Humanity has sunk to a new low! They should be utterly ashamed!

It feels so good in the moment. So uplifting. So self-affirming. As the shot of self-righteousness courses through us, we thank God that we aren’t like those people. We thank God that our moral standards are still intact in the face of the cultural onslaught. We thank God that we, the remnant, still remain.

And we don’t only play the shame game with non-Christians.

  • We shame each other.
  • We shame our children.
  • We shame pastors who have fallen into sin.
  • We shame parents whose children have wandered away from the faith.
  • We shame those who are struggling with same-sex attraction.
  • We treat shame like a spiritual weapon which we can use to bludgeon people back to Jesus.

But it doesn’t work. It never works.

Why?

Because we can’t shame people to repentance or godliness.

We think we can because in the moment, shaming makes us feel powerful. Strong. In control. When we shame someone, we feel like we’re putting them in their place. When we shame our kids, we feel like we’re controlling them. When we shame those in the church, we feel like we’re keeping moral boundaries in place.

But in Scripture, we rarely see examples of Christians shaming other Christians to repentance (1 Corinthians 6:5 and 15:34 being exceptions – but then again that was the Apostle Paul, and we’re not him).

We repeatedly see God bringing people to shame, often out of a desire to bring them to repentance. God brought shame upon the Israelites when they abandoned him.

But you don’t see shame as a discipleship technique used between believers.

We can’t shame people to repentance or godliness…

I suspect one of the primary reasons for this is because we can’t dispense shame appropriately. When we dispense shame, it’s way out of proportion to the actual offense. The amount of shame we discharge far exceeds the sin committed. Shame is like fire: very easy to start, very difficult to control.

Additionally, shame isn’t redemptive. Shaming doesn’t bring believers closer together in fellowship. Shame doesn’t lead believers in paths of repentance and righteousness. Rather, shame causes people to hide. It causes them to withdraw. To disappear.

Think about your own experience. The times you’ve been shamed by other Christians. Did that produce godliness in you? Did it increase your love of other Christians? I suspect not. Shame is destructive rather than redemptive.

Finally, when we shame others, it puts us in the position of God. People should be ashamed of their sins against God. That is the right kind of shame. But God is the one who, by his Spirit, creates that shame in a person for the purpose of leading them to repentance. When we try to shame people, we are saying that they should be ashamed of their sins against us. We are putting ourselves on the judgment seat and rendering a verdict.

Our churches should be places where sinners can feel safe. Where those struggling with sin can find a refuge. Where weary, worn-out sinners can find peace.

Yes, we will call them to repentance. Yes, we will point them to Scripture.

But we will also make them feel safe, loved, and accepted.

I love how Ray Ortlund puts it:

Gospel + safety + time. It’s what everyone needs. A lot of gospel + a lot of safety + a lot of time.

God is the one who does the saving and he’s the one who does the changing. When we forget this reality, we resort to shaming.


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.


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.


You are Not Your Labels

We tend to find our identity in labels. For example, the label “nerd” applies quite nicely to me. I like video games, obscure Star Wars quotes (“He’s no good to me dead!” – name the reference), and all the latest tech gadgets. The label “creative” also fits me pretty well. I love bringing new ideas to fruition and coming up with new ways to approach old problems. I’m also book junkie, a sports lover, and a coffee snob. I’ve got no problem with these labels. They represent part of who I am. And you probably have a number of labels plastered on your forehead as well. Gearhead, gamer, jock, outdoorsman, redneck, political junkie, etc. For the most part these labels are neutral.

But all of us have also adopted labels which are not so good. “My grandpa was an angry man, my dad was an angry man, and I’m an angry man.” Or, “I’ve always struggled with body image issues. It’s just who I am.” Or, “I’ve always wrestled with same sex attraction. It’s just a part of me.” Or, “My mom treated me like trash. My husband has treated me like trash. Therefore, I must be trash.” Or, “I’ve just always been a worrier. I can’t help who I am.”

We assume that what has been always will be. We willingly adopt the labels that come with the struggles: angry, anorexic, loser, trash, failure, addict.

When we believe the labels we more quickly give in to temptation. “I’ve always been a slave to porn. It’s just who I am. I might as well keep giving in to it.” Or, “I’ve always been impatient. I can’t help it. I’m always going to be this way so I might as well learn to live with it.”

But the solid, firm, Biblical reality is that we are not our labels. 

In Galatians 2:20 Paul said:

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.

When Paul said he had been crucified with Christ he meant that his old, sinfully enslaved, wickedness-loving self had been killed. It was crucified with Christ and it died. When Paul’s old self died, all the labels that went along with his old self also died. Paul was a violent man, but the “violent” label was nailed to the cross. Paul was a self-righteous fool, but the “self-righteous” label was pinned to the cross as well.

For Paul there was only one label that mattered: Christ lives in me. That reality defined who he was. The old, “labeled” Paul had been crucified with Christ. The new Paul had only one label: “Christ In Me”.

The same is true for us. Our old self was crucified with Christ and now Christ himself lives in us. We are not ultimately defined by our struggles we are defined by our union with Jesus Christ. Our old self, with all its labels is dead and buried. Those old labels don’t apply to us anymore. We may still struggle with the same temptations, but those temptations no longer define our identity.

We are in Christ and Christ is in us. Period. That is our identity. All the old labels can go to Hell (I mean that literally).

There will be times when it feels like we will never change. Like we will always be angry, have an eating disorder, give in to lust, worry, or be greedy. But God’s reality must always trump our perceived reality. We will not always be the same. Why? Because Christ lives in us. When Christ lives in us the old labels no longer apply.

Every day we must live in light of who we truly are. When we are tempted to be angry we must remember, Anger belongs to the old me. When we are tempted to lust we must remember that lust belongs to our old self. When we are tempted to worry we must remember that our old, worrying self was crucified with Christ.

We are not our labels. We are Christ’s.


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


3 Words Which Absolutely Destroy Worry

Worry is the act of imagining a future without God.

When you strip it down to its bones that’s what it really is. I worry when I imagine a future devoid of God. I worry when I project my current feelings and discouragements and struggles into the future. I worry when I take God’s love and faithfulness out of the equation. When I imagine a stark and bleak future, a screaming void in which my faithful and loving Father does not exist or act on my behalf. Underneath all the anxiety and fear and confusing emotions worry is actually a form of atheism. It’s acting as if God does not exist.

Psalm 18:46 provides three words which destroy worry and fuel faith: “The Lord lives…”

Don’t pass over those words too quickly. The. Lord. Lives.

My budget is flatlining and we are financially tanking and I don’t see hope for the future! But the Lord lives. The same Lord who owns everything and provides for ravens and sustains galaxies and calls us his children is real and alive and active in your life. You can’t provide for yourself but your budget is not too tight for God. The Lord lives.

Worry is the act of imagining a future without God.

My child is not doing well spiritually and I’ve tried everything and I don’t have any hope that anything will change! The Lord lives. The same Lord who has saved murderers and prostitutes and Pharisees and drug addicts and money addicts and pastors' kids is real and alive and active in your life. You can’t save your child, but your kid is not too hard for God. The Lord lives.

My marriage is on the rocks and we’ve tried counseling and we’ve read all the books and I don’t see things getting any better! The Lord lives. The same Lord who created a bride for himself out of rebellious, wicked, God-hating sinners is real and alive and active in your life. You can’t rescue your marriage, but your marriage is not too hard for God. The Lord lives.

My spiritual life is dry, and I’ve tried a thousand different things to get it kickstarted, but nothing seems to work, and honestly, I don’t think things are going to get any better. The Lord lives. The same Lord who caused you to become spiritually alive is real and alive and active in your life. You can’t breathe fresh life into your heart, but your heart is not too dry for God.

Your circumstances may be bleak. You may not see a light at the end of the tunnel. You may not see any silver lining. But circumstances and tunnels and silver linings are not the basis of our hope, God is.

Don’t be a functional atheist today. The Lord lives. Let’s live in light of that reality.


Stephen Altrogge serves as a pastor at Sovereign Grace Church. 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.