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.

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.


A Salvation Bought With Blood, Sweat, and Tears

Have you ever had one of those moments when one little bit of Scripture leaps from the pages and punches you in the mouth (in a good, wonderful way)? It happened to me this morning. I was reading the account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, which I’ve read, like, infinity times (hat tip to Napoleon Dynamite). And I’ve made all the “right” applications of the passage to my life. Jesus was suceeding in overcoming temptation where Israel had failed. Jesus was overcoming and conquering Satan, living a sinless life in my place. Jesus was fighting against Satan with the word of God, which provides a model for us. And on and on.

But then this little sentence jumped out:

Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him. (Matthew 4:11)

The angels were ministering to Jesus. That’s interesting, I thought. Why did Jesus need the angels to minister to him?

Because, you idiot, he just endured the full, intense, exhausting, carefully calculated, carefully planned, forcefully executed onslaught of Satan himself! He went head to head in an all-out battle against King of Darkness! He hadn’t eaten for forty days, and was probably physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted. After Jesus won the battle against Satan, the angels ministered to him, strengthening him, comforting him, lifting him.

Sometimes I think of Jesus as walking through life without ever really struggling. I mean, come on, he was the Son of God. Surely that made things easier for him, right?

Wrong! What scripture makes clear is that Jesus experienced the utter fullness of our humanity, and was tempted in every deep, full, multi-faceted sense of the word. Just because Jesus didn’t have a sinful nature doesn’t mean that it was easy to resist sin. Remember, Adam and Eve didn’t have a sinful nature either.

Jesus endured the constant, relentless onslaught of Satan’s choicest temptations. Jesus wrestled with Satan himself, not a middle level management demon. I don’t think Satan himself needs to bother with me. He can simply send one of his demons to tempt me. But not so with with Jesus. The Prince of Darkness harnessed all his powers of temptation and deceit in an effort to derail our Savior. In Hebrews 5:7 it says:

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.

Jesus fought for our salvation with loud cries and tears. Cries of desperation, discouragement, exhaustion, and numbness. Tears of grief, betrayal, and heartache. He was sinless, but he was also a Man of Sorrows, intimately acquainted with grief, betrayed by friends, assaulted by enemies, sweating drops of blood in Gethsemane.

For thirty-three years Jesus was pressed, stretched, and assaulted on every side. The relief didn’t come until he uttered the words, “It is finished.” Why did Jesus endure this? To win our salvation! To do what Adam, and Noah, and Israel, and David, and Solomon, and me, and you all failed to do. Jesus spent all of his might, strength, and emotion to conquer sin and Satan, and to make our forgiveness possible.

I’m so grateful for Jesus, the King of Kings who desperately needed the angels to minister to him. I’m grateful that we have a Savior who was tempted in every way, and who now ministers himself on our behalf. That’s the kind of Savior that I need.


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

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

What did I get out of church?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Frame puts it this way:

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

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

It’s time to be all in.


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


You Know You Are Losing The Battle of Faith If…

Your circumstances seem more overwhelming and powerful than Jesus. You are overwhelmed by the “giants” that surround you.

So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” (Matthew 14:29-30)

Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31:6)

You regularly find yourself plotting our your future instead of trusting in the Lord with all your heart. You run different scenarios through your mind, working out all the “if-then’s,” planning for every contingency, creating plan A, plan B, and plan C. Your assurance and peace comes from your ability to “figure things out” rather than trusting in the Lord.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil. (Proverbs 3:1-33)

You trust your feelings more than you trust the promises of God. You rely on your fluctuating feelings to give you an accurate picture of life, rather than on the unchanging word of God.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Psalms 119:105)

You despair when circumstances get “too big” for you. Rather than trusting in the God through whom all things are possible, you sink into a funk when your circumstances get bigger than your ability to handle.

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. (Psalms 42:5-6)