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.

Prayer Changes Things. Right? Or Does It?

Let’s talk about prayer.

I mean, prayer changes things, right? After all, that’s what prayer is. We present our requests to God and he responds. God answers prayer. We’ve known this since Sunday school.

But it also raises some sticky questions. Like, does God change his mind? If God responds to prayer, does that mean he alters his sovereign plan in response to our requests? Or is God like the ultimate chess player – a Kasparov on steroids – answering prayers by outsmarting the devil, the universe, fate, karma, or whatever else he has to outsmart?

To prevent us from drifting into heresy or having our brains explode from exhaustion, let’s look at the Scriptures.

Prayer Does NOT Change Things

In one sense, prayer doesn’t change things. God really is sovereign, and he rules the past, the present, and the future. One common heresy (“open theism”) is that God doesn’t know the future and only responds to it like a chess player.

Scripture is pretty clear that this isn’t the case. God knows the future (the word “future” doesn’t really apply to God since he is omnipresent, but you get the point).

Isaiah 46:9-10 says:

I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.’

Throughout the Old Testament, God routinely told the people of Israel EXACTLY what would happen. In Jeremiah 25:11-12 God spoke to Israel through Jeremiah, telling them that they would be exiled to Babylon:

This whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. Then after seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, declares the Lord, making the land an everlasting waste.

This was foreordained by God. It wasn’t a mystery to him. He wasn’t hoping that Nebuchadnezzar would invade Israel. It wasn’t on God’s life-goals list.

It was a sure thing, set in stone, absolutely going to happen.

Our prayers don’t alter God’s sovereign plan. It’s not like we pray and God says, “Woah, hey now! Didn’t expect that one. Okay, gotta change things quickly. Time to shift things around. Let’s see, I’ll put this here and this here and…”

God isn’t the ultimate project manager, trying to juggle the lives of 7 billion people as they make their choices apart from his sovereign plan. He has planned and ordained history, and he knows precisely what will happen.

My prayers don’t change the wise, good, sovereign plan of the King.

Phew. Thank God.

Prayer Changes Things

But in another sense, prayer really does make things happen. Scripture is clear that God wants us to pray and that he really and truly does respond to our prayers.

Scripture makes it clear that prayer changes things. In James 5:13-15, it says:

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.

The logic here is pretty simple. If you’re sick, call the elders to pray for you and God will hear and answer that prayer. On the flip side, if you don’t pray the prayer will not be answered.

When Solomon dedicated the temple, he prayed:

Now, O my God, let your eyes be open and your ears attentive to the prayer of this place (2 Chronicles 6:40)

Our Father wants us to pray. He loves when we come to humbly with our requests. He’s a good God who loves to bless his children, and he really and truly does respond to our prayers of faith.

Charles Spurgeon said:

My heart has no deeper conviction than this, that prayer is the most efficient spiritual agency in the universe, next to the Holy Ghost.

God isn’t a sadistic freak who loves to manipulate our emotions. He’s a good God who invites his children to pray.

Prayer changes things. Phew.

Embracing The Mystery

Let’s acknowledge that we don’t know how these things work together.


God’s complete sovereignty and my free will and responsibility don’t really make sense to me. I can’t logically reconcile them. When I do try to reconcile them, I usually end up reducing things to heresy.

My Western, Enlightenment-influenced brain doesn’t like mystery. It makes me feel uncomfortable. Sometimes I think that if I can’t explain something it must not be true.

Frankly, that’s pretty stupid.

God is God. He is infinitely above me, and his ways are most certainly NOT my ways. How could I possibly think that I could comprehend the workings of the One who sustains all things by the power of his word. I can barely change the locks on my front door, let alone understand how God works.

Yeah. That’s lunacy.

I know two things, and both give me immense comfort.

NUMBER ONE: My good God rules, controls, and ordains all things for my good and his glory.

NUMBER TWO: God invites me to pray to him and promises to respond to my prayers.

That’s enough for me.


Original article here.

Stephen Altrogge is a writer who lives in Tallahassee, FL, with his wife and 3 daughters. You can find out more about him on The Blazing Center


The Incredible, Unfathomable, Steadfast Love of God

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and musing about the steadfast love of God. Well, not really “musing”. Musing implies that I’m sitting in a high-backed chair, in front of a roaring fire, smoking a pipe, wearing a robe, and sipping on sherry.

My love for the Lord and others is so fickle. Some days I’m hot, some days I’m cold, some days I’m thankful, some days I grumble. If someone does something to irritate me, my affection for them dries up. If I wake up with a headache, I’m more tempted to grumble than to rejoice.

But incredibly, God’s love is steadfast. Immoveable. Unchangeable. Faithful. In Lamentations 3:22-23 it says:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

Pause for a moment. Read that verse again. Let your mind be blown. Read the verse until you actually believe it. I’ve got to admit, this verse is a hard one for me to believe. God’s steadfast love for me never ceases. His mercies toward me never come to an end. I can’t out run or out sin God’s steadfast love and mercy. I can’t escape God’s faithfulness.

All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies. (Psalms 25:10)

All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness. As I walk with the Lord, the road ahead is littered with steadfast love, and faithfulness, and mercies that are new every day.

This week has been a rough one. Jen came down with the evil step-mother of all stomach viruses, which meant that she was out of commission for the last three days, which meant I’ve been taking care of the girls for the last three days. I’m not good at taking care of the girls by myself. I need Jen! Our house looked like a tornado bomb went off in it. I also didn’t feel that great myself on a couple of those days, which didn’t help.

But in the midst of the insanity, and stress, and arguments with Ella over whether she was going to wear Winnie the Pooh underwear or Belle underwear, and me sinning in impatience, God’s love for me was steadfast. In the midst of all my ups and downs this week, God’s love for me did not fluctuate. His mercies were new each morning, and each hour, and each minute.

I’m so grateful that God’s love for me is steadfast. If his love for me was tied to my love for him, I would be in deep trouble. But his love is steadfast. His mercies are always present. And he is faithful. I need to regularly call this truth to mind, both for my spiritual health, and my sanity.


Original post here.

Stephen Altrogge is a writer who lives in Tallahassee, FL, with his wife and 3 daughters. You can find out more about him on The Blazing Center


There’s a Good Chance God Will Almost Kill You

When someone is going through a tough time we like to say, “Don’t worry. God won’t give you more than you can handle.” It sounds nice and is semi-inspirational, kind of like saying, “Whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger!” Kind of a Christian bootcamp, I’m in the Lord’s army, suck it up fella you’re gonna make it saying. God won’t give you more than you can handle! You’re going to get through this! Bite the bullet, buckle down, suck it up, push through, dig deep, unleash your animal, huzzah, hip hip hooray.

One slight problem with this line of thinking: God will often give us more than we can handle. In fact, there will be times when God practically kills us. 

In 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 Paul said:

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.

God nearly crushed Paul and his apostolic companions. He allowed them to be so afflicted, so burdened, so overrun, so overwhelmed, so beaten down that death seemed like a real possibility. He brought them to the end of their resources and then kept pushing and crushing and grinding until Paul and his friends felt they were under a sentence of death. Did God give Paul more than he could handle? Yeah, I guess you could say that. God nearly killed Paul, and there will be times when he does the same thing to us.

Why does God do this? Is he some sort of sick sadist who enjoys tormenting helpless men and women? No, not at all. God burdens us beyond our strength so that we will be forced to utterly and completely depend on him. God gives us way more than we can handle so that we’ll stop trying to live a self-sufficient life apart from God. He brings us to the brink of death so that we’ll rely on the One who can raise the dead.

When we’re overwhelmed, beaten down, and worn out, we’re in a good place. We’re finally seeing ourselves as we truly are: weak, helpless creatures who desperately need God. When we acknowledge our pervasive weakness we can then receive the overwhelming, sustaining, empowering, conquering grace of God. When we put our face in the dirt before God we’ll discover the spring of His grace running just under the surface.

If you feel overwhelmed, don’t take comfort in your ability to handle it all. Don’t try to figure out how you’re going to make it through the darkness. On your own you won’t make it. You can’t handle life. It’s too hard and too heavy and too oppressive. But we serve a God who causes old women to give birth and gives life to dry bones and raises the dead. Run to God in your weakness and bone-tiredness and despair. Rely wholly on him. Throw aside any foolish confidence you have in yourself. Drink deeply of his overwhelming, overflowing grace.

Will God give you more than you can handle? You better believe it. In fact, he might almost kill you. But he brings us to the brink of death so that we’ll trust in his ability to raise the dead.


Original post here.

Stephen Altrogge is a writer who lives in Tallahassee, FL, with his wife and 3 daughters. You can find out more about him on The Blazing Center


Being Epic Is Killing Us

These days everything is “epic” (insert one to fifteen exclamation points). Every movie is an epic story of heartbreak, love, and survival. Every book is the most epic tale since Homer’s Odyssey. Every sports rivalry, no matter how lame or inconsequential (“the Altoona Curve take on their epic rival”) is the epic game of the century. The Super Bowl is epic. The World Series is epic. Those wings I ate last Thursday were epic.

We Christians are epic junkies as well. The books that sell and the blog posts that spread are those that portray the Christian life as an epic journey of thrills, excitement, and crazy adventures, all for the glory of God. And don’t get me wrong, there will be times in our lives when we will do big, difficult things for God, like go on a mission trip, adopt a child, or plant a church. I am ALL for those things. Praise God if you have the opportunity to be a part of something big.

But, to paraphrase the movie The Incredibles, if everything is epic then nothing is epic.

Does God really want all of us to be constantly living epic, exciting, thrilling, over-the-top lives? If so, where does that put those of us who simply read our Bibles, go to church, take care of our kids, and serve those around us? I would put myself in that category. Am I missing out on something? I don’t think so.

In 1 Timothy 2:1-3 Paul says:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior…

Wait, what? Peaceful, quiet, godly, dignified lives? Where is the epicness? Where are the crazy adventures for God? Where are the thrills? Where is the radicalness?

Maybe we’ve got this epic thing all wrong. Maybe God wants us to live epicly quiet lives. And maybe, just maybe, living a quiet, godly, dignified life truly is epic.

I think this is what Jesus meant when said: “And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward” (Matthew 10:42). Most of the Christian life is ordinary, at least in the world’s eyes. We go to work. We take care of our children. We serve those in our neighborhood. We take care of the new mom in our small group. We reach out to the sick in our church. We pray for one another. We instruct our children in the fear of the Lord. We change diapers. There is nothing epic or extraordinary about any of these things.

But the reality is, serving the Lord in any way truly is epic.

When we serve the Lord in any way, big or small, quiet or loud, at home or abroad, we are storing up rewards in heaven. We are laying up treasures in heaven. And when we get to heaven the real epic life will begin. Heaven truly is epic in every sense of the word. Everything we do, see, say, and enjoy in heaven will be epic.

If you feel discouraged because your life doesn’t seem very epic for the Lord, maybe you need to redefine your understanding of “epic.” All service to Lord is epic. Serving your children can be epic. Cleaning the bathroom can be epic. Creating a spreadsheet can be epic. Every day of the Christian life is meant to be quietly epic. Because a day is coming when life truly will be epic in every sense of the word. Let’s live for that day.


Original post here.

Stephen Altrogge is a writer who lives in Tallahassee, FL, with his wife and 3 daughters. You can find out more about him on The Blazing Center


Six Surefire Steps to a Joy-Filled Life

[This post was written by my fellow pastor Bob Mundorff]

John 15:7-11 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

Step 1: Be a Christian.

  • “Abide in me…” If you trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior, you are “in Christ.”

Step 2: Read God’s Word.

  • “If you… and my words abide in you…” Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God, so take in more Bible than food.

Step 3: Pray answered prayers.

  • “If you… (do steps 1 and 2), ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” If God’s words abide in you, you’ll pray them. And he’ll answer them.

Step 4: Prove your faith by bearing much fruit.

  • “If you…  bear much fruit and so prove…” Fruitful work for Christ brings both glory to God and assurance of salvation.

Step 5: Abide in Jesus’ love.

  • “If you… Abide in my love…” How? See step 6.

Step 6: Keep Jesus’ Commandments.

  • “If you keep my commandments…” This fulfills step 5. Jesus said that we abide in his love by keeping his commands. A very necessary final ingredient in the recipe for joy.

Result – Guaranteed Joy.


Original post here.

Stephen Altrogge is a writer who lives in Tallahassee, FL, with his wife and 3 daughters. You can find out more about him on The Blazing Center


1 Corinthinans 13… Remixed for Today

If I status update with such insight, hilarity, godliness, or profundity, that I get a thousand retweets and likes, yet have not love, I’m a cellphone that won’t stop ringing, or a car alarm at 2 AM.

If I understand every nuance of every complicated doctrine, including eschatology and predestination, and am a constant defender of orthodoxy, and if I am renowned for my ability to communicate truth with passion, but have not love, I’m nothing more than a first grader in the kingdom of God.

If I am a fantastic worship leader, able to lead hundreds of people in passionate worship of God, yet have not love, my skills are worth jack.

If I am a blog warrior, constantly on the attack against those who would distort the faith, yet have not love, I’m that yippy dog next door who won’t stop barking… even at 3 AM.

If I live a life of radical sacrifice, crazy love, and wartime mentality, and sponsor lots of kids through Compassion International, and go on mission trips in “closed countries,” but have not love, I gain nothing.

If I am a great artist, able to capture a snapshot of the glory of God on canvas, or in song, or in prose, or on film, and yet have not love, my creative “genius” is utterly useless to God.

If I preach like Piper or Chandler or Chan or Platt, and yet have not love, I’m nothing more than a squawking parrot who likes to imitate others.

If I read all the books by all the smart theologians, and can quote them off the top of my head, yet have not love, WHO REALLY CARES!!!!

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.


Original post here.

Stephen Altrogge is a writer who lives in Tallahassee, FL, with his wife and 3 daughters. You can find out more about him on The Blazing Center


Well, You Could Give Up, Or You Could Do This…

The Christian life is full of utterly impossible challenges. You think you can overcome your sin and live a holy life in your own strength? Have at it my friend! Come back in six months and tell me how it’s going for you. You think you have enough wisdom to help your children navigate all the landmines and pitfalls of life? Well huzzah for you! (Side note: we really need to bring the word “huzzah” back into usage.) Do you think you have enough insight to untangle the sticky relational mess you find yourself in? Do you think you have the strength to sufficiently lead your small group, worship team, counseling team, church planting team, or church? Right. Have at it my friend. I’ll have a bed in a padded room waiting for your return.

The reality is, God constantly places us in situations that are far beyond our ability to bear. He places us smack dab in the middle of befuddling, perplexing, overwhelming, even crushing circumstances. Why does God do this? To humble us. To make us painfully aware that we cannot make it through this life apart from him. To highlight our desperate dependence on him. God strips us of our own strength to make us totally reliant upon his strength.

In 2 Corinthians 1:9, Paul says:

Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.

God allowed Paul to be pushed and pressed, hit and hammered, even sentenced to “death,” SO THAT he would not rely upon himself, but upon the power of the God who raises the dead. God puts us in situations that are so far beyond our ability to survive so that when deliverance comes, only God can receive the glory.

Speaking of pastoral ministry (but this quote applies equally to a million other situations), Charles Bridges says:

Did we depend upon the failing support of human agency [strength], or upon the energy of mere moral suasion [our ability to persuade] – we should cry out, prostrate in heartless despondency – “Who is sufficient for these things?” But the instant recollection – that “our sufficiency is of God” – “lifts up our hearts in the ways” and work of the Lord. (The Christian Ministry, page 19)

Are you in a situation that is too hard for you? Are you being stretched beyond your giftings and abilities? Are you pushed down and crushed, even to the point of despair? Do you feel like butter scaped over too much bread? You really only have two options.

Behind door number one: give up. Let despair, anger, and unbelief wash over you like an acidic shower, eating away at your faith. Start calling yourself a “realist.” Allow cynicism to have its way with you.

OR…

Behind door number two: rely upon the God who raises from the dead. Throw aside any foolish remnants of self-sufficiency and depend wholly upon our mighty, powerful God. Depend upon God to work in your rebellious children. Depend upon God to work mightily in your shaky marriage. Depend upon God to save your “unsavable” relative. Depend upon God to give you physical and emotional strength to serve your family. Depend upon the God who slays giants, shuts lions’ mouths, and rescues out of fiery furnaces.

God does incredible things when we stop relying upon our own abilities and start relying on him. He does incredible things when we finally give up on our own abilities and find all our strength in him.


This post was originally published on The Blazing Center here.

Stephen Altrogge is a writer who lives in Tallahassee, FL, with his wife and 3 daughters. You can find out more about him on The Blazing Center

Crushing Your Goals… God’s Way

I’ve read too many books about achieving goals, accomplishing tasks, and being more productive. Some authors say you should shoot for the stars when setting goals. Other authors say you should have low, reasonable expectations. Some say that if you write your goals down, you will unlock the positive energy of the universe, which will then flow through you (I’m not making this stuff up). Others go so far as to recommend writing out your own obituary. All the books have titles like Crushing Your Goals!, Be An Elite Achiever!!, and The Principles for World Domination!!! (these authors really like exclamation points).

And the truth is, these books have helped me to achieve some of my goals. I ran a half-marathon. I’ve written a few books. I exercise regularly. I did pretty decent in college. Hurray for me, sis-boom-bah, big honkin’ whoop. Not really. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I was able to do those things. But I’m beginning to realize that there’s a big difference between simply achieving goals and achieving goals in a manner that pleases God.

It really is possible to achieve almost anything if you put your mind to it and are willing to pour all your energy into achieving your goal. This is how morbidly obese people lose 200 pounds, mailroom employees become corporate executives, and total nerds found companies like Apple and Google. It’s also how people memorize entire books of the Bible, create freakishly awesome youth ministries, and write Christian books.

But there are two ways to achieve a goal. The first way is by relying on your own strength. You will pull yourself up by the bootstraps, kick down all the doors, and suplex anyone who gets in your way. When you accomplish the goal, you get the glory. That is not God’s way of achieving goals. Unfortunately, I’ve taken this path far too often.

The second way to achieve your goals is in humble dependence upon God. In Proverbs 16:3 it says:

Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.

Godly goal crushing begins by committing the goal to the Lord. It begins by saying, “Lord, I want to do this for your glory. I realize that I can’t accomplish anything truly good without your divine empowerment. Help me.” Godly goal crushing begins by humbly praying over our goals. It begins by lifting our goals to the Lord and saying, “Lord, I hold this goal loosely. If you want me to achieve this, help me. Otherwise, thwart me.”

  • “Lord, help me lose weight for your glory, so that I can be healthy and more effectively serve my family. I want to do this in a manner that pleases you.”
  • “Lord help me get good grades for your honor, not mine. You have given me a mind, help me use it to bring you honor.”
  • “Lord help me attain this position at work in a way that pleases you. Guard me from selfish ambition. Guard me from the temptation to advance my agenda above your agenda.”

It’s quite possible to achieve good, moral goals without pleasing the Lord one bit. I’ve done this too many times to count. But if we commit our goals to God, and work at them in humble dependence upon God, he will be honored. If we work in our own strength, we get the glory when we achieve the goal. If we work in God’s strength, he gets the glory. Today, tackle your goals with God’s strength.


3 Things I’ll Tell My Daughters about Modesty

I have three daughters, the oldest of whom is seven, so we haven’t had to spend a whole lot of time talking about modesty. Yet. But I know without a doubt that the time is coming when we will be having many, many discussions about modesty. How do I know this time is coming? Because our culture is becoming increasingly comfortable with a highly sexualized version of womanhood. The pornification of society is showing up everywhere, from Miley Cyrus performing in front a national audience to the magazines that show up in grocery stores. As my daughters grow older, they will be increasingly encouraged to use their bodies in ways which don’t please the Lord.

So what will I say to my daughters when I talk to them about modesty? Instead of presenting them with a lengthy list of rules and checklists, I hope to keep things pretty straightforward. I’ll tell them that modesty is a way of life in which they seek to honor God and serve others with their bodies.

MODESTY IS A WAY OF LIFE

When it comes to modesty, it’s easy to gravitate toward one of two extremes. On one end are those who say that modesty doesn’t matter at all (see Miley, Beyonce, et al.). On the other end are those who try to codify modesty into a set of very precise directives (skirts must be at least one inch below the knee, tank tops are strictly forbidden, etc.). I would venture to say that those of us in the church tend to gravitate toward the precise directives end of the scale. In an effort to keep our daughters from immodesty, we are tempted to prescribe all sorts of laws about what clothes can and cannot look like.

While I certainly want to help my daughters think through their wardrobe choices, I want them to understand that modesty is, most importantly, a way of life. True modesty is a heart disposition before it is a particular wardrobe choice. A woman with a modest heart is first and foremost concerned about serving the Lord and serving others. She will certainly make particular wardrobe choices, but those choices will flow out of a heart attitude rather than a set of arbitrary rules.

The reality is, my daughters could follow all my rules for modesty and yet still behave in a way that is both sexually alluring and sexually immoral. This is why Peter writes:

Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. (>1 Peter 3:3–5)

Peter understands that modesty is, above all else, something that is internal rather than external. If my instruction regarding modesty focuses primarily on creating rules or checklists for my daughters, than I’ve failed as a dad. I want them to understand that modesty is a way of living before God. Modesty is about God before it is about them.

MODESTY IS ABOUT SERVING GOD

In the midst of all the confusion about what articles of clothing are too short, or too tight, or too revealing, it’s easy to forget that modesty is primarily about serving God.

God created each of my daughters, and he gave each of them a wonderful, female body. Because God created my daughters, they belong to him. Their bodies belong to Him, and their bodies are to be used in ways which honor and please him. Lord willing, each of my daughters will grow up and marry a godly man (I don’t want to think of that day!). When one my daughters gets married, she will give herself fully (including her body) to her husband (and vice versa). She will present herself to her husband in ways that are sexually delightful to him. God is so very pleased when a man and wife present themselves to each other in sexually alluring ways. With all our emphasis on concealing the body, we can inadvertently make it sound like sex is a bad thing. It’s not! Sex is a God thing when it takes place in the context of marriage.

As my daughters get older, I want to help them understand that they are only to present themselves as sexually alluring to their husbands. Any other attempts to be sexually alluring are not honoring to God.

So does this mean that I will only let my daughters wear frumpy sweaters and ratty jeans until they get married? Absolutely not! Beauty is a gift from God, and I want my daughters to highlight that gift without flaunting the gift. I want them to present themselves to the world as beautiful, feminine, smart, and attractive, without being intentionally sexually alluring. How will we achieve such a balance? I don’t know yet! Achieving such a delicate balance obviously requires some serious, Proverbs-like wisdom, which can only be obtained through large doses of Scripture and a whole lot of prayer.

MODESTY IS ABOUT SERVING OTHERS

I don’t care what people say—the reality is that if a woman dresses in a way that reveals significant portions of her body, it will tempt most men to lust after her. To quote Bruce Hornsby, “That’s just the way it is, some things will never change.” I’m not commenting on whether this reality is good or evil, I’m simply stating the facts. Anyone who argues those facts doesn’t know men very well.

With this reality in mind, modesty becomes a way of serving others. Modesty is a way of treating others as we desire to be treated. Modesty is a way of demonstrating Christ-like love, which puts the interests of others above our own interests. All of which matters very much to Jesus.

Before I talk to my daughters about necklines or the length of shorts, I want to help them cultivate a desire to serve their fellow brothers in Christ. Yes, I realize that last sentence sounds totally sexist and misogynistic, but I don’t know any other way to put it. As Christians, we live in community with each other, and our actions directly effect those around us. The way my daughters dress really will effect those around them. Causing someone else to be tempted is serious business to Jesus. In Matthew 18:6 he says:

…but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

Before anything else, modesty is about serving others. It is about sacrificing our own personal preferences for the sake of those around us.

CONCLUSION

Will I talk to my daughters about specific items in their wardrobe? Sure. It’s inevitable. But I want my daughters to see that individual wardrobe choices are part of a much bigger picture. I want them to understand that the clothes they wear in this life echo into eternity. I want them to understand that modesty isn’t just dad flipping out over a shirt that is too tight, but rather, is about using their bodies to bring maximum honor and glory to God. Will I get this right every time? Of course not! I desperately need God’s grace and wisdom to navigate this issue.

I’m confident he will supply me with all I need.


Stephen Altrogge is a writer, pastor, and knows a lot about Star Wars. Find out more at The Blazing Center. This post was originally published here.


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.


Can a Christian Cuss for the Glory of God?

A few years ago, Derek Webb ruffled evangelical feathers by including the word “shit” in one of his songs. In the song “What Matters More?”, he said:

‘Cause we can talk and debate till we’re blue in the face
About the language and tradition that He’s coming to save
And meanwhile we sit just like we don’t give a shit
About fifty thousand people who are dying today'

Webb’s song stirred up debate, hand-wringing, and gnashing of teeth over whether it’s okay for a Christian songwriter to cuss in songs. If I remember correctly, there were blog comment strings of truly Tolstoy-ian lengths, with ample references to Hitler, slippery slope arguments, and the decline of morality in the church. It was great fun in a bare fisted boxing sort of way.

This debate has come up again recently thanks to the King’s Kaleidoscope song “A Prayer”, in which the f-bomb gets dropped a few times. As you would imagine, the general response from the evangelical community was…

This brings up the question: what place, if any, does strong language have in Christian art?

It’s an important question that deserves some deep thinking.

AVOIDING KNEE-JERK REACTIONS

It’s easy to have a knee-jerk response to this kind of issue.

“Of course there shouldn’t be swearing in a song! Christians don’t cuss, chew, or run with those who do! They must be slipping away from God if they feel comfortable with THAT kind of vulgarity.”

To quote Ned Flanders, “I expect that kind of language at Denny’s, but not here!”

And there’s also the whole, “My kids may be listening,” problem. If possible, I prefer to limit the amount of gross vulgarity my kids hear. They won’t be watching The Wire until they’re at least 10.

The simple, Sunday school answer is that Christians shouldn’t use strong language in their art, no further questions, class dismissed, leave your flannelgraphs on the desk.

And it’s certainly true that Christians are called to avoid vulgar speech (Eph. 4:29). We will give an account to God for the words we speak. But knee-jerk, hot take reactions don’t adequately address both the intent of this verse (and similar verses) or what’s really happening in the art.

A deeper look is needed.

THE CONTEXT OF THE VERSE

Ephesians 4:29 says:

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

This command comes as part of a long list of behaviors that should characterize those who have been born again and are walking in new life, along with other behaviors like truthfulness, integrity, and kindness. Verse 29 is a divine ban on words that “corrupt” others – the type of speech used by those who don’t know Christ.

Corruption has connotations of rot, gangrene, and disease – all things that spread ruin. Corrupting words poison and pollute hearts and minds with sinful thoughts, attitudes, and desires. They cause good, holy desires to rot like meat left in a freezer that has been unplugged.

So, does hearing cursing corrupt us or other believers? I think it depends on how the words are used and in what context.

When curse words are used in a sexual way, to humiliate a person, or to express blind fury, that’s corruption. “Locker room talk” (to quote the Big D) is certainly corrupting talk. Muttering obscenities to a coworker because your boss wants you to file TPS reports is corrupting talk. Slander and gossip is corrupting talk. This type of speech poisons you and others.

But I think there are select occasions and contexts when curse words can be used in a way that is not corrupting and is actually helpful. I realize this is somewhat controversial, but hear me out. And no, I’m not advocating that you suddenly start napalming people with f-bombs in casual conversation.

SELECT OCCASIONS AND CONTEXTS

As Ephesians 4:29 makes clear, Christian speech should build up other believers, as fits the occasion, so that it may give grace to those who hear.

So, can there be an occasion when the use of strong language can actually give grace to someone? I believe so. A few examples.

The great author Flannery O’Connor wrote powerful stories in which she demonstrated “the action of grace in territory held largely by the devil.” In writing these stories, she often had her characters using profanity and other objectionable words. This was necessary given her subject. After all, it’s hard to craft a believable sinner who says, “By golly, that is a bunch of codswallop you no-good ninny.”

And yet despite the cursing, these stories have imparted grace to so many, including many who have been led to salvation through them.

Another example. Last year I was meeting with a very godly older man and expressing some really deep angst about some broken situations. At one point he said to me, “You know, the world is a pretty f****** up place.” These were some of the most refreshing words I had ever heard. He didn’t say the world is a messed up, screwy, or broken place. He called it exactly what I felt about it.

Finally, scripture itself doesn’t pull any punches when speaking about the darkness and bleakness of the world. Paul told the Galatians that he wished those who were unsettling them would go the whole way and emasculate themselves. God called the people of Israel whores. Scripture often uses strong language to jar us out of our comfort and help us see the true nature of a subject.

THE CONTEXT OF THE SONGS

So how did Derek Webb and King’s Kaleidoscope use profanity in their songs? Interestingly enough, despite the relative “badness” of the words used (if that is such a thing), the Derek Webb song is waaayyyy more problematic.

His point is that the church at large spends all this time huffing and puffing and stomping about “minor” issues, such as sexual orientation, tradition, doctrine, and minor profanity in a song. Meanwhile, they don’t give a s*** about 50,000 people dying every day.

He certainly makes a valid point that we as Christians could do a better job caring for the poor, broken, and hungry. But his casual dismissal of tradition and biblical sexuality is flat-out unbiblical and not a minor issue at all. Honestly, the use of the profanity is the least troubling thing in the entire song.

The song by King’s Kaleidoscope is another thing entirely. When asked about the song, front man and author Chad Gardner said:

…that song comes from the deepest part of my gut and my being, and the fear that I face throughout my life – I’ve had really severe anxiety disorder my whole life, and that’s been a major part of my struggle and story. That song is about the fear of running from God or that God will turn his back on me and I will end up apart from him in hell. And the actual lyric is something that is from my journal – I don’t know how everyone else has conversations with God, but I have very vulnerable conversations, and God already knows how afraid I am. I usually figure it’s good for me to pour out my soul to him, and that’s what that song is.

This makes complete sense to me. There have been multiple points in my life when I have poured out my soul to God in a completely raw and unfiltered way. There are times when the thoughts running through my head would shock everyone except God.

More importantly, Gardner’s words align with the Psalms. That book should come with an explicit warning. The Psalmist is constantly struggling, doubting, and even angry with God. He wonders if God will abandon him. He wonders if his life has been vain. He never shied away from putting his soul on full display for God and the world to see.

Is there a place for profanity in Christian art? It depends very much on the purpose of the profanity and the heart behind. Sometimes speaking the truth about a subject requires using words that will truly grab hold of someone.

This isn’t something to be taken lightly. Words matter to God. Words can bring grace or gangrene. Let’s use our blessing and our cursing for the glory of God.


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


The Internet Makes Us All Miserable

Once upon a time, jealousy and comparison and coveting was limited to the people you knew.

Your neighbor gets a new car; your car is a lousy piece of crap; you feel jealous. Your coworker gets a raise; you’ve worked your tail off without getting a raise; you feel worthless and angry. Your church friends have wonderful, tastefully decorated houses, like snapshots out of Real Simple magazine. Meanwhile, your house is like something out of Prisons and Penitentiaries magazine, which makes you feel like a failure. Your brother’s kids are respectful, well-behaved kids, who say, “Please,” “Thank you,” and “I’ve memorized all of Ephesians.” Your kids make poop jokes at the dinner table.

In the good old days of jealousy and comparison and coveting, we compared ourselves to those close to us. When someone near to us succeeded, we felt like a failure.

But the good old days are gone. Now, thanks to the Internet, we can feel like failures all the time.

When you get on Pinterest, you are instantly assaulted by tasteful Mason jars, beautifully sculpted furniture, immaculate hair braids, and gourmet foods. Meanwhile, your house is decorated in a style called “Wal-Mart,” and you are serving your kids gourmet mac ‘n cheese.

Things aren’t much better on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram. Every day hundreds of people post about the awesome life they are living. Newly engaged couples post photos of themselves sitting together, foreheads touching, fingers intertwined. Meanwhile, you’re single, with no prospects other than a full Netflix queue. Parents give a shout out to their four year old, who just learned one hundred Latin words. Meanwhile, you’re still trying to potty train your four year old (that would be me). Your fellow writing buddy posts that he just signed a book deal. You’re still trying to get someone other than your mom to read your blog. A woman in your church publicly thanks the Lord for helping her lose one-hundred pounds. You spend your days wearing sweatpants and gym shorts.

Is it wrong for people to post happy status updates and photos? No, of course not. We should rejoice with those who rejoice. We should give thanks when someone gets engaged, loses a lot of weight, or signs a book deal.

But the Internet has dramatically, exponentially increased the temptation to compare ourselves to others.

It’s time to stop playing the comparison game.

Every time you open your browser or app, remember:

  • You are fully, completely, one-hundred percent accepted by God. This acceptance is rooted in the finished work of Christ, not your parenting skills, decorating skills, body type, or relational status. You don’t need to be like anyone else to be accepted by God. God accepts you in Christ, and that is enough.
  • God has a specific, good plan for your life. God’s plan will lead you through specific dark valleys and to specific green pastures. These valley and pastures are particularly shaped by God for you. Don’t try to fight your way to someone else’s green pasture, all the while ignoring the pasture God has prepared for you.
  • You are called to be faithful to teach your kids about the Lord. You’re not called to teach your kids Latin, the names of all fifty [states], the geography of the African plains, or the history of classical literature. If you want to teach your kids those things, great. But your primary calling is to teach your kids about the Lord. Stay faithful to your calling and God will be pleased.
  • You are called to serve faithfully in whatever sphere God has placed you. On the final day, God will reward you based on how faithfully you used the talents he gave you. He won’t reward you based on how well everyone else did.

Don’t let the Internet make you miserable. Don’t let the Internet determine how you see yourself. Serve faithfully and let God be the judge.


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