Stephen Altrogge

  • God’s Dreams are Better Than My Dreams

    I’ve been thinking a lot about dreams lately.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • The Incredible Lightness of Terrible Trials

    [The following interview took place in an undisclosed location.]

    ME: Okay, let’s see here. I called the records department and had them send your file down. It says here that you were nearly stoned to death, left for dead, flogged, unjustly thrown in prison, shipwrecked, bitten by venomous snakes, reviled, and generally persecuted wherever you went. Paul, how would you classify these many trials you experienced?

    PAUL: I consider them to be light and momentary.

    ME: I’m sorry? It sounded like you said they are light and momentary.

    PAUL: I did. I consider all the brutal trials I experienced, including the intense physical persecution, as nothing more than a light and momentary affliction.

    ME: How can you possibly say that? When I experience trials they do NOT seem light and momentary. They seem intense. They seem heavy, powerful, and oppressive. It feels as though my trials are in my face, screaming at me, spitting at me, harassing me, cussing me out. The trials haunt me, hanging over my shoulder like a demonic spectre.

    PAUL: Yeah that sounds about right. My trials felt like that at times. Do you think I was all smiles and cupcakes when I was lying in the dirt, my head split open by rocks, fading in and out of consciousness? Hardly.

    ME: So how can you call your trials “light and momentary”? You endured intense trials for most of your Christian life. The file here says you were even given a thorn in the flesh. How can you possibly say your trials were light and momentary? If anything, they were intense and brutal. Come on, Paul; be real here. Quit trying to put a good face on everything.

    PAUL: I am being real! The key is being able to see past the trials to what is actually taking place in eternity. Eternity is the most real thing that exists! If you can look above the fog of trials and catch a glimpse of the mountains of eternity, everything falls into place.

    ME: Well that sounds very spiritual and poetic, but what exactly do you mean?

    PAUL: There is a direct connection and correlation between the trials you experience here on earth and the glory you will experience in heaven. Each trial you endure in this life prepares you to experience more glory in heaven. The deep sorrows you taste here prepare you to taste deeper joys in heaven. The pain that plagues you here prepares you to experience the deeper strength of your resurrection body. The death of a fellow believer prepares you for the overwhelming joy of everlasting life.

    ME: So are you saying that it is necessary for us to experience trials in this life? Because many “preachers” today say that the Christian life should always be health, wealth, and prosperity.

    PAUL: Those preachers are wrong. Don’t forget, there is a direct connection between our earthly trials and our heavenly glory. One leads to the other. If we don’t experience the trials on earth, we won’t experience the glory in heaven. It’s as simple as that. Our trials go on ahead of us. A life free from earthly pain produces an eternity free from heavenly glory.

    ME: As you look back over your life, is there anything you would change?

    PAUL: No. Absolutely not. When I put my earthly suffering on one side of the scales and my heavenly glory on the other side, there simply is no comparison. The glory that I am enjoying and experiencing now truly does make my earthly trials seem light and momentary.

    For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

  • It’s Time for Some Radical, Crazy, End-Times Living

    If you knew the world was about to end, what would you do? I mean, seriously; if you knew that it was all going down in just a few months, how would you live? I’d probably quit my job, sell all my stuff, and try to get really radical for Jesus. You know, maybe some street-corner preaching, maybe some 30 days fasts, maybe some crazy mission trips. If I knew Jesus was coming back, I’d want to get down to business.

    In recent years, there have been a slew of books published which encourage Christians to be more radical for Jesus. To have crazy love for Jesus, which leads us to do crazy-awesome things for Jesus. To be world-changers for Jesus. To do hard things. To push the Jesus envelope.

    And while I’m all for being radical for Jesus, we need to think carefully about what being radical really means. Fortunately, it’s spelled out pretty clearly in scripture.

    In 1 Peter 4:7, Peter tells his readers that the end is coming. He says that, “The end of all things is at hand….” He wants his readers to be ready for the return of Jesus. He doesn’t want them to be caught off guard. After all, Peter was very familar with Jesus’ promise that he would come like a thief in the night, or like a master returning to his servants late at night. Peter wanted his readers to be living radically, because the end of all things was (and is) at hand. He wanted to awaken the sleepy and provoke the apathetic.

    So, what does Peter tell his readers to do?

    … therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 4:7–11)

    Dang, son. That doesn’t sound too exciting. What about forming communes and doing crazy evangelism and fasting for weeks at a time? Where’s all that stuff?

    It turns out that radical, passionate, end-times living looks pretty ordinary. Being radical means being self-controlled and sober-minded. It means earnestly, zealously loving your fellow brothers and sisters. It means showing hospitality with a cheerful attituded. It means using the spiritual gifts God has given you to serve those around you.

    The reality is that being radical for Jesus usually takes place in the context of your home, community, and local church. Is there a place for mission trips, long fasts, and hardcore evangelism? Of course. But if you want to be consistently radical, you need to be aware of what is taking place right around you. Who can you serve in your community? Who can you love in your church? How can you use your gifts to serve your fellow Christians?

    If the world was going to end in a few months, I would want to throw myself even more zealously into the lives of those around me. And given the fact that, “The end of all things is at hand,” I should be radically involved in my home, community, and church every day.

    The end is coming. Are you ready?

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

  • About Stephen Altrogge

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

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