Mark Altrogge

Mark Altrogge
Senior Pastor, Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana, PA

God's Perfect Timing for You

Have you ever cried out “How long, O Lord?”

Ever wondered when God will save your child? Do you ever get tired of asking God again and again for something just doesn’t come? We want answers now, but God has a perfect timing for everything in our lives. Israel experienced this perfect timing after they set foot in the promised land.

While the people of Israel were encamped at Gilgal, they kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month in the evening on the plains of Jericho. And the day after the Passover, on that very day, they ate of the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. And the manna ceased the day after they ate of the produce of the land. And there was no longer manna for the people of Israel, but they ate of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year. Joshua 5.10-12

Israel had spend 40 years in the wilderness, and now God had miraculously held back the waters of the Jordan and brought them into the promised land. God had them circumcise themselves to renew their covenant with him, then celebrate the Passover, which reminded them how the blood of their lambs had saved them from God’s judgment on Egypt.

“And the day after the Passover, on that very day, they ate of the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain.”

For 40 years they’d eaten nothing but manna. Now on the day after they remember how God saved them – “on that very day” – they eat of the produce of the land. God had kept his promise to bring them here and now the produce of the land is a pledge God is going to give it completely into their hands.

And the manna ceased the day after they ate of the produce of the land. And there was no longer manna for the people of Israel, but they ate of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year.

See God’s perfect timing? “And the day after the Passover, on that very day, they ate of the produce of the land”….And the manna ceased the day after they ate of the produce of the land.”

“On that very day”…”the day after”…perfect timing!

God has a perfect timing for everything in our lives. A perfect time to meet our needs. A perfect time to save our loved ones. A perfect time for you to meet your future husband or wife. A perfect time – a very day and hour – for every trial to end. Keep trusting God. Keep praying. Keep asking, seeking and knocking. Wait patiently. God has a perfect timing for everything in your life. Who knows? Today just might be God’s perfect time to answer your prayers.

15 Essentials to Finish Life Well

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 2 TI 4.7

It doesn’t matter how we start the Christian race. Many explode out of the gate like racehorses, only to stumble along the way. We regularly hear of the failures of Christian leaders. Believers get ensnared by pride, drugs, and sexual sin. 20-year believers sometimes wind up agnostics or atheists. I hope, by God’s grace, I finish well.

Here are 15 truths to meditate on as we run this race:

Keep Jesus your treasure.

The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance. PS 16.5-6

Paul’s main goal in life was to press on to know Jesus more and more. When Jesus is our treasure the lures and attractions of the world pale in comparison.

Be consistent in Bible intake

I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. PS 119.11

When we drift from God’s word, we set ourselves up to fall. God’s word is filled with promises, warnings and wisdom to keep us from drifting and sinning.

Pray constantly

Pray without ceasing 1 Thess 5.17

When we neglect prayer we miss out on God’s help and power. He is a rewarder of those who seek him. He is waiting to give us strength and joy when we ask.

Cultivate the fear of the Lord

The fear of the LORD leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied; he will not be visited by harm. PR 19.23

God will not be mocked, and he will lovingly discipline us for sin. When we fear God we know he sees our every act and knows our every thought. The fear of the Lord will spare us from so many sins that would derail us.

Cultivate trust in God. Beware unbelief.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. PR 3.5

When things go well it’s easy to trust God. But when hard times hit, we are tempted to think he’s abandoned us or isn’t faithful. We’re tempted to look for other things to satisfy us. Let us regularly quote Peter, “Where would I go Lord? You have the words of eternal life.

Don’t forget you have an enemy

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 1 PE 5.8

We often forget we have a real enemy. If he can’t steal our eternal life, Satan will try to get us to sin and be unfruitful. He’s going to tempt you today. Are you ready?

Beware the cares and worries of this world

…but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. MK 4.19

The cares of this world – our kids, our bills, our health, our homes, our grades, our jobs…all these things press on us. We must be diligent in God’s word or the world will choke our faith.

Guard against the love of money

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. 1 TI 6.10

It’s so easy to think “I don’t love money.” But are you generous? Do you give to the poor? To your church? How much do you think about the next thing you want to buy? The love of money has caused may to wander away from the faith.

Watch over your heart

Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. PR 4.23

What are you believing about God? About your life? Are you beginning to give in to some kind of temptation? What kinds of things are you taking in to your mind? Are you inwardly grumbling and complaining? Are you thinking thoughts of self-pity? Or are you seeking to praise God inwardly? Do you tell yourself God is working all this for my good? What we think about regularly is critical – our thoughts are “the springs of life.”

Flee immorality

Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 1 CO 6.18

Stay as far from it as you can. Don’t go near the magazine rack. Don’t flirt with it online. Pray daily, “Lead me not into temptation.” All day long, pray, “Lord Jesus, keep me from lust.” Stay out of the car in the park in the dark. Don’t go near the door of her house. Sexual sin has derailed multitudes.

Expect you will suffer. Be prepared for disappointments and pain.

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 1 PE 4.12

Christians sometimes forget they will suffer. “It wasn’t supposed to be this way.” “I can’t believe this happened to me.” Sooner or later, Jesus takes us through fire and floods. Be ready for them and they won’t undo you.

Don’t have any secrets – be honest with others

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another JA 5.16

David hid his sin and it only multiplied. Share your burdens and temptations with others. Don’t have a secret life. Have at least one person you can share your struggles with.

Try to thank God continually

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 TH 5.18

Thankfulness keeps our focus on God and off ourselves. It expresses faith and produces joy.

Seek to cultivate humility – guard against pride

One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor. PR 29.23

Listen to others. Be teachable. Pride has wrecked so many. God gives grace to the humble. Those who humble themselves will be exalted. Remember you have blind spots. You don’t know everything. You’re not always right. Others have insights you need.

Think often of heaven

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 1 PE 2.11

If we remember we are only passing through this world and our true home is heaven it will motivate us to abstain from fleshly passions. Paul kept his eyes on the crown he’d receive for running the race and fighting faith’s fight. Live to hear God say at the end of your life, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master.”

There are probably many more truths to consider to finish our lives in Christ well. But I hope these encourage you.

Mark Altrogge has been senior pastor of Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana, Pennsylvania, since 1982. He has written hundreds of songs for worship, including “I Stand in Awe” and “I’m Forever Grateful.” Mark and his wife, Kristi, have four sons and one daughter. Find out more on his blog, The Blazing Center.

The Critical Key to Spiritual Success

Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Joshua 1:7-8

When Israel came out of Egypt, God never told them to fight the Egyptians. He did all the fighting. Israel couldn’t save themselves; God saved them. By his mighty power and miracles he broke the back of Egypt. Then he split the Red Sea and Israel walked through on dry land, then God brought the sea back together to drowned the Egyptians. But after taking them through the desert, on the edge of the promised land, God told Joshua that NOW they were to fight. To take the land, a land full giants and powerful enemies.

This is a picture of our Christian lives. When God saves us he does all the work. We were helpless slaves of sin and Satan, who could no more break free on our own any more than Israel could escape from Egypt on their own. But God sent his Son Jesus to become a man, live a life of perfect obedience, then pay the penalty for all our sins on the cross and purchase forgiveness for all who believe in him. God did all the work!

Then, like Joshua, we stand on the edge of a spiritual Canaan, where there are giants and enemies we must conquer and drive out. Giants of pride, lust, selfishness, unbelief, and love of the world. As disciples of Christ we must take up our crosses, die to ourselves and work. God has promised to never leave us nor forsake us. Like Joshua, we too must be courageous and fight. Not to gain salvation but because WE ARE SAVED. We fight from the position of salvation. We have eternal life. Now we fight to become more and more like Christ.

And the key to our spiritual success: soaking in and doing God’s word. In other words, meditating on and obeying it.

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it.

God didn’t say, “Joshua, carry this book with you everywhere you go.” He said it was to be in Joshua’s mouth. Joshua was to speak it. Rehearse it. Review it. Day and night. The Hebrew word for “meditate” means soliloquize, muse, ponder, mutter. As the Psalmist says:

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.
Psalms 1:1-2

I will remember the deeds of the LORD;
Yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
I will ponder all your work,
And meditate on your mighty deeds.
Psalms 77:11-12

Ever seen a cow chewing on its cud? (Science lesson here). Cows’ stomachs have four distinct compartments. When a cow first takes a bite of grass, it only chews it a little, then swallows it, and it goes into the part of its stomach called the rumen, which begins to break it down. The rumen is the largest part of the stomach, as large as a 55-gallon trash can. After filling up on grass, cows find a place to lie down where they burp up their food into their mouth again and again, and chew it to keep breaking it down. This action of “un-swallowing”, re-chewing, and re-swallowing is called “rumination,” or, “chewing the cud.” which lets them to chew grass more completely and improves digestion.

This is a picture of meditation on God’s word: we take it in and ruminate on it. Chew on it. Ponder it. Apply it to our lives:

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it DAY AND NIGHT, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. Day and night – in other words, all the time. All day long. Not once a week or every once in a while.

A man named John Underhill tells this story: In January 1984, I was painting the home of an 89 year-old lady in Spokane. She had a large family Bible prominently displayed on the coffee table and remarked that it was 116 years old and a priceless heirloom. I commented on how remarkable that was, and added, “It doesn’t matter how old the Bible might be, what’s on the inside is what matters.” She immediately replied, “Oh, I know. That sure is the truth. Why, we have family records and births and marriages and deaths that go so far back, all recorded in that Bible; we could never replace them.”

So meditate on God’s word! Don’t neglect it! We have so many ways to take it in – phone apps, CDs, Kindle versions. God wants you to succeed in life so he has given you his word. Start today if you aren’t already. Start small – five, ten or fifteen minutes. The key is to be consistent. If you miss a day, just pick it up again tomorrow. I’d also suggest recording the verses you read each day, so you can remember where to start tomorrow.

God’s word will give you strength, hope and joy. Now get out there and RUMINATE!

6 Critical Truths to Understand about Anger

The Bible has a lot to say about anger.

I don’t mean righteous anger, the kind of anger we can experience toward injustice or evil but sinful anger. Many times we may feel we are “righteous” in our anger because someone wronged us. Anger often involves our sense of justice. But it’s very easy to slide into sinful anger, hatred, and bitterness. Here are some Biblical truths and principles that God has used to help me make progress in conquering my own sinful anger.

Anger is not caused by other people or our circumstances. It comes out of our own hearts.

For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. MT 15:19

No one else can make you angry. Circumstances don’t cause your anger. Anger is your own sin. David Powlison says our hearts are like sponges. If I squeeze a sponge and black ink comes out, it might seem that the squeezing caused black ink to come out. Yet I might squeeze another sponge and have clear water come out. So, it was not the squeeze that caused the ink to come out, but ink came out because that was what was in the sponge. The squeeze merely revealed what was there in the first place. Other people and circumstances can “squeeze” our hearts and if anger comes out, it is because that’s what was in our heart.

Anger is caused by our own unfulfilled desires.

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. JA 4:1–2

James says our own “passions”—cravings and desires—cause all our quarrels and fights. We desire and do not have; so, we murder, fight, and quarrel. In other words, we want something and we don’t get it; so, we get angry. Whenever you are angry ask yourself, “What is it that I want right now that I’m not getting?” Once I told my kids to go to bed and heard them wrestling and throwing things upstairs. When I went up I said, “You’re making me mad,” to which one replied, “But you have said no one else can make you mad.” I said, “You’re right. You are disobeying me, which tempts me (squeezes me), and it is my anger, my sin.” When I went downstairs I asked myself, “What do I want that I’m not getting?” My answer: I wanted to relax. I wanted kids who always perfectly and immediately obeyed. I wanted to watch TV, not oversee bedtime.

Anger won’t make anyone do the right thing. 

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. JA 1:19–20

Many times we think anger will motivate others to do the “right” thing. Parents think anger will make their kids do the right thing, or act “righteously.” But anger won’t produce the righteousness of God. Anger might make kids outwardly obey, like little Pharisees, but it won’t change their hearts. Anger won’t produce inward righteousness in our spouse or coworkers. Anger does no good.

Anger toward another person is murder of the heart.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brotherc will be liable to judgment; whoever insultsd his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” MT 5:21–22

We tend to downplay the seriousness of anger. “I was just venting” or “letting off steam.” But Jesus said anger is murder of the heart and a violation of one of the 10 commandments. It can make us subject to the very hell of fire.

Anger makes things worse. 

A harsh word stirs up anger. PR 15:1

A hot-tempered man stirs up strife. PR 15:18

Not only does anger fail to produce righteousness, it makes things worse. It stirs up anger in others. It stirs up strife. It has the opposite effect to what we are desiring.

Anger opens the door for Satan

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. EPH 4:26–27

When we “let the sun go down on our anger” or fail to deal with it in a timely fashion, either by asking forgiveness, forgiving others, or working things out with them, it opens the door for Satan to tempt us to bitterness, revenge, slander, and a host of other sins. Cain’s anger at Abel led him to kill his brother. Anger is serious. We must deal with it quickly.

These truths have helped me numerous times when I’ve been tempted to anger.  I’m not saying I’ve conquered it and I never sin in anger. But by God’s grace, understanding these things has helped me make progress. I hope you, too, will find God’s Word and Spirit help you make progress in overcoming anger.

Mark Altrogge has been senior pastor of Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana, Pennsylvania, since 1982. He has written hundreds of songs for worship, including “I Stand in Awe” and “I’m Forever Grateful.” Mark and his wife, Kristi, have four sons and one daughter. Find out more on his blog, The Blazing Center.

Let’s Not Shock Any Angels

One day before I met my wife, I was asking God to bring someone into my life, and he spoke to me.

Not audibly, but clearly. This thought came into my mind: Mark, if you can’t be satisfied in me as a single person, then you won’t be content when you’re married either. Because no human being can satisfy another human being.

No human being can satisfy another human being.

Only God can satisfy us. If we don’t find all our delight and joy in Jesus, we won’t find it in anything else. God puts it like this in Jeremiah 2:12-13:

Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD,  for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.

The angels in heaven, who continually behold God’s glory are shocked, stunned – even “desolate” – when they see God’s people forsake him, the fountain of living waters, the source of all joy and satisfaction, and drink from broken down, barren, dust-filled wells. The angels are dumbfounded.

So what is it you most long for today? What is it that you think would make you jump for joy? What is that thing you tell yourself, if I only had that, then I’d be happy and wouldn’t want anything else? If it isn’t Jesus, your heart is deceiving you. Because that “thing,” even if it’s a blessing from the hand of God, can’t satisfy your heart. Things will eventually disappoint us. God may bless us with the most wonderful husband or wife, and if we aren’t content in him, we’ll soon find ourselves looking around for something else to fill the void.

Let’s look to Jesus to quench the thirst of our souls. Let’s come to the fountain of living waters and drink deeply and say to The Lord,

The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance. Psalms 16:5-6

When The Lord is our chosen portion and our cup, the lines fall for us in pleasant places. We can be content in the desert. When Jesus is our meat and drink, we’ll always be full. Jesus is our beautiful inheritance. What more do we need?

Remember, no human can satisfy another human. A wife won’t satisfy. A husband won’t satisfy. A child won’t either. Neither will a job, a home, or anything else. If God has given you any of these wonderful blessings, then thank him for them. And it’s not wrong to ask him for these desires if he hasn’t given them to you. But don’t look to them to fulfill you.

Let’s make this our prayer:

Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. (Psalms 90:14).

Lets not shock any angels, ok?

Mark Altrogge has been senior pastor of Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana, Pennsylvania, since 1982. He has written hundreds of songs for worship, including “I Stand in Awe” and “I’m Forever Grateful.” Mark and his wife, Kristi, have four sons and one daughter. Find out more on his blog, The Blazing Center.

I’m So Glad Paul Used This Word…

There is a word in the Bible that I’m so glad is there. I’ve come back to it again and again over the years. I have said many times, “Yeah! That’s the word for it. That’s what I’m feeling right now.”

What is the word? “Perplexed.”

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.  We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;  always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.  2 Corinthians 4:7-10

Perplexed, but not driven to despair!

Paul, the author of most of the New Testament, was perplexed at times. The brilliant theologian Paul didn’t know what the heck was going on at times. He didn’t understand why certain things were happening to him. There were things in his life that didn’t make sense. Outcomes that shouldn’t have happened. Friends that shouldn’t have betrayed him. Unexpected twists and turns. And he was perplexed.

Like when he was being a servant, gathering sticks for a fire and a poisonous viper latched on to him. Ever had that experience? You were just trying to serve and you wind up getting bit.

So many things in our lives are perplexing. We try to do the right thing and someone gets angry at us. We do all we know to do as parents and a child rebels. We help someone financially and they go around slandering us. We give someone godly counsel then they blame us for the problems their sins have caused. Perplexing. Confusing. Mind-boggling. Head-scratching.

Why does God allow us to be perplexed? To display his power. To remind us that we are jars of clay and all our strength is from God.

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed” – When life beats us down and we rise up out of the ashes praising God, it displays his incredible power.

“Perplexed, but not driven to despair” – When we go through confusing circumstances that would drive others to despair yet we continue to hope in God, that displays his might.

“Persecuted, but not forsaken” – Others hurt us yet we find again and again that God is with us.

“Struck down, but not destroyed” – We just keep getting back up again. Why? Why don’t we just stay down? Why don’t we we just give up? Why do we keep coming back to God’s word, and to church? Why do we lift up our hands in praise when we should just quit? Because of God’s power!

“Always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” When we “die” in any way –  when we’re disappointed, betrayed, confused, perplexed, hurt, persecuted, disrespected, abused – it’s then that the life of Jesus shines most brightly through us. All our afflictions are intended to reveal the power and glory of God in our lives.

Are you perplexed? Are you down? Get back up. Keep going. Keep seeking Jesus for strength. Keep asking him for answers. Don’t despair. Jesus is about to display his glorious power through you.

Mark Altrogge has been senior pastor of Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana, Pennsylvania, since 1982. He has written hundreds of songs for worship, including “I Stand in Awe” and “I’m Forever Grateful.” Mark and his wife, Kristi, have four sons and one daughter. Find out more on his blog, The Blazing Center.

Sip Your Americano, Then Pick Up Your Sword

“Mark,” Ted* said to me, hanging his head and staring at the floor, “I blew it again.”

“This time I charged a new computer. I figured I would just use it while it was still under warranty then return it and charge another one from somewhere else.” His compulsive behavior was destroying not only his finances but taking a huge toll on his marriage.

Ted and his wife were regular fixtures in my office at the time. He was a serious slave of sin. He’d turned to Christ a couple years before and seemed to truly despise his sin, but kept sliding back into it. He’d never deny it or make excuses for it. He’d freely admit it and was clearly fighting it. He’d run strong for a couple weeks then plunge headlong again. He had an accountability group of guys who took turns calling him every day. He and his wife removed everything tempting they could from the house. Yet he kept falling. At times I wondered if he was truly born again or if his marriage could survive. But he never gave up.

After a few years Ted and his wife sensed God leading them to a different church. When they left I really hoped their marriage would make it.

I was glad to see Ted’s face not long ago when I walked into a local coffee shop.

Taking a sip from his Americano, he said, “Mark, I’m a testimony of the Lord’s faithfulness. All these years God has kept me. I’m still married, my kids are serving the Lord.” He’s an active member of his church. “In fact,” he said, “One of my kids leads a Bible study I attend.  God has been good to me.”

Ted’s a living example of Philippians 1:6:

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

God is relentless. He’s not phased by our failures. He is determined to complete his good work of transforming every believer into his own likeness. And he will not fail. If we cling to Jesus, he will vanquish our sins little by little, day by day, year by year. Jesus will have the final word. He will be victorious. He will be successful in his transforming work.

So have you failed again? Fallen again? Get back up and get back in the race. God hasn’t quit working in you, so don’t you quit working. If God hasn’t given up on you, then don’t you give up on God. He is infinitely greater than all your sins. If God could raise you from the dead and give you spiritual life he can give you victory over your sins as well.

Ted never gave up. Every time he fell he’d get back up and try again. He’d confess his sins and ask for prayer. He’d dust himself off, retie his shoes, take a deep breath and get back in the race. And now, some 20 years later, he sips his Americano and proclaims, “God is faithful.” I could almost see his spiritual sword lying across the table, nicked and dented from many battles, and his shield of faith, stained and battered, propped up against a chair. Someday he won’t need them anymore.

So sip your Americano, then pick up your sword and grab your shield of faith again. Jesus isn’t finished with you yet.

*not his real name

Mark Altrogge has been senior pastor of Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana, Pennsylvania, since 1982. He has written hundreds of songs for worship, including “I Stand in Awe” and “I’m Forever Grateful.” Mark and his wife, Kristi, have four sons and one daughter. Find out more on his blog, The Blazing Center.

27 Reasons Why Every Believer in Jesus Should Rejoice Always

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. PHP 4.4

There is no way we can begin to number the blessings God has heaped upon those who believe in his Son, but here are a few spiritual blessings we should regularly recall, thank God for, and rejoice in:

1. We have eternal life and can never lose it
2. We are one with Christ
3. Jesus has paid for every sin we ever have and ever will commit
4. God himself is our Father
5. There is absolutely no condemnation for us in Christ
6. We are no longer slaves of sin or under its dominion
7. We are joint-heirs with Christ and will share in his reward
8. We have a sympathetic high priest who intercedes for us night and day
9. The Holy Spirit of God dwells in, empowers, comforts, and counsels us
10. Our God is our refuge, strength, and strong tower
11. We have unlimited access to the throne of grace
12. Nothing will ever separate us from God’s love
13. God is working all things for our good
14. Someday we will be reunited with our loved ones who believed in Jesus
15. The Creator of the universe hears our every prayer
16. God has a purpose for our lives which he will certainly fulfill
17. God has prepared good works for us to walk in
18. The angel of the Lord encamps around us 24/7
19. God is in control of every detail of our lives
20. Jesus will never leave us nor forsake us
21. Every bit of pain we endure produces an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison
22. The One who watches over us neither slumbers nor sleeps
23. God will make each one of his children into the likeness of his Son
24. God will reward us for every good deed we do, no matter how small
25. God will supply our every need
26. Someday Jesus will personally wipe away our every tear
27. And someday we will gaze upon the glorious face of our Savior for eternity

Here’s a suggestion: Copy this list and put it where you will see it regularly. Or stick it in your Bible to use in your devotions occasionally. Or make your own list. I have found the more I meditate on all God’s blessings and the more I try to rejoice in Christ for these, the more joy I experience.

Mark Altrogge has been senior pastor of Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana, Pennsylvania, since 1982. He has written hundreds of songs for worship, including “I Stand in Awe” and “I’m Forever Grateful.” Mark and his wife, Kristi, have four sons and one daughter. Find out more on his blog, The Blazing Center.

Holiness is Not an Option

We love to preach grace, talk about grace, help new people understand grace. How astonishing that God declares us righteous in Christ and we need do nothing to earn it. What joy to know that our lavish God pours out grace upon grace on us, so much so that it will take the coming ages to reveal his kindness to us in Jesus.

But God’s grace should lead us to holiness. Imputed righteousness should lead to PRACTICAL righteousness. We should walk in a manner worthy of the gospel. We must PRACTICE our righteousness.

Jesus told his followers to practice righteousness. But unlike the religious leaders of the day, they should practice righteousness in all of life–especially in private.

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 6:1)

The Pharisees practiced righteousness–in public. But not in private. They did it for show. They taught others to be holy but they weren’t in private. They practiced righteousness to gain the praise of men.

Jesus commands us to practice righteousness. Both in public and in private. To hunger and thirst for true righteousness. To be holy whether anyone is watching or not. To flee temptation when we’re all alone in an airport 15 states from home. To be pure and holy on Thursdays at 2 a.m. as well as Sunday mornings when we’re singing in church. To be pure in our thoughts as well as when sharing in Care Group.

Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. (2 Corinthians 7:1)

to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Eph 4:22-24)

Holiness is not an option! God is holy and he saved us to make us like himself. Impurity and every form of unholiness belongs to our former life. Now we are to put on our new self created after God’s likeness in righteousness and holiness. God has called us in holiness. He gives us his Holy Spirit to make us holy.

Holiness isn’t limited to sexual purity. We should hunger and thirst for righteousness–or acting rightly–in all our relationships. We want to do what is right with our our spouses and children. Do what is right with our neighbors. It isn’t righteousness to lie or steal or cheat on our taxes. It isn’t righteousness to grumble and complain. We want to PRACTICE RIGHTEOUSNESS. We don’t simply want to talk about it.

Hospitals encourage the practice of hygiene. They put signs and reminders all over the place–wash your hands. Don’t spread disease; wash your hands. They have containers of antibacterial gel all over the place. Boxes of latex gloves in patients’ rooms, specially marked trash cans. Every needle is individually wrapped and they don’t use a needle more than once. Before they draw blood they swab your arm with something to kill any germs in the area. Hospitals PRACTICE hygiene. Why? Because if they don’t there are consequences. People can get sick and die.

Can you imagine a hospital that said they believed in hygiene but didn’t practice it? Oh, yes, we believe in sanitation. Do we wash our hands? Naahh. Do we reuse needles? What’s wrong with that? Here, stick this in your mouth so I can take your temperature. It’s only been used a few times; you’ll be ok. I don’t want to go to any hospital that merely talks about being clean; I want them to be passionate about hygene.

How much more should we have a passion for holiness?

We are to be holy and righteous in every area of our lives. Holy in our thoughts. In our speech. Cursing and dirty jokes and gossip and slander should be far from our lips. We should be holy with our eyes and turn away from all impurity. We must seek to be holy in our actions.

Ongoing hunger and thirst

Jesus didn’t say “Blessed are those who at one time hungered and thirsted for righteousness…” He said “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness”–Present tense. All the time. Every moment. Like the sons of Korah who wrote Psalm 42:

As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? Ps 42:1-2

To thirst for righteousness is to thirst for the living God. To thirst for relationship. For intimacy and communion with the Holy One.

So let’s not just talk about righteousness. Let’s hunger and thirst for it. Let’s not simply talk about holiness. Let’s practice it.

Mark Altrogge has been senior pastor of Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana, Pennsylvania, since 1982. He has written hundreds of songs for worship, including “I Stand in Awe” and “I’m Forever Grateful.” Mark and his wife, Kristi, have four sons and one daughter. Find out more on his blog, The Blazing Center.

When You Get the Raw End of the Deal

You’ve been mistreated. Gotten the raw end of the deal. Unjustly overlooked in a promotion. Spent many hours trying to help someone only to be rejected.

Injustice. The world is full of it. Sooner or later, everyone is treated unjustly, in big or small ways. When I was in 8th grade I was supposed to receive the school’s “Outstanding Student Award” based on my grade point average, but because another student’s mother was a teacher in the school, they gave the award to him. I was stunned, shocked, devastated at the time. I’d never been treated unjustly before. I couldn’t believe people could act that way. Welcome to the real world, kid.

I’ve never experienced the horrible injustice some do on a daily basis, like Christians in North Korean prison camps or victims of ISIS. But like everyone else, I’ve been wronged at times. For trying to be kind, I’ve gotten scorn. A few times, after spending hours and hours trying to help someone, I’ve been blamed for their troubles. I’m not complaining and don’t feel like I’m a victim. I know many who have tried to help and bless others far more than I have, only to be despised and blasted on Facebook or worse.

When someone sins against us we can want to take things into our own hands. Pay them back. That’s when we need to remember the God of justice.

Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him. IS 30.18

“When we say that God is just, we are saying that He always does what is right, what should be done, and that He does it consistently, without partiality or prejudice.” The word just and the word righteous are identical in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. God’s actions are always right and fair.” Bob Deffinbaugh

Abraham understood that God is just and righteous when he appealed to God to hold off judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah:

So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the LORD. Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” GE 18.22–25

God’s justice and righteousness mean he always does the right thing.

He always does the right thing in our lives. He is never unfair with us. We should never say, “I don’t deserve this,” “I shouldn’t have to go through this,” or “Why is God doing this to me?” Men may be unjust and treat us unfairly, but God never will. Even when men treat us unjustly we can know that someday the judge of all the earth will make things right.

Because God is just we should never take revenge, but leave that to him.

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” RO 12.9

We must leave vengeance to God because only he knows the motives of men’s hearts. Only he knows the exact punishment every sin deserves. Only he knows every detail of someone’s actions—their background, their understanding of what they are doing, etc.

Rather than seeking to execute justice ourselves, we need to trust God, even as Jesus did.

When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 1 PE 2.23

Jesus was the ultimate case of being treated unjustly. He had done nothing wrong, yet men scourged him, pounded a crown of thorns into his head, and nailed him to a cross. If I had been Jesus, I would have probably screamed at my torturers, “Hey you just wait till 3 days from now! When I rise from the dead, I’m coming after you, and you’re going to wish you’d never been born!” But Jesus “continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” That’s what we’re called to do. When we’re wronged, we can trust God who will someday make everything right. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”

When you suffer injustice—not if, but when—remember, the Judge of all the earth will do what is just. Keep entrusting yourself to him.

Mark Altrogge has been senior pastor of Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana, Pennsylvania, since 1982. He has written hundreds of songs for worship, including “I Stand in Awe” and “I’m Forever Grateful.” Mark and his wife, Kristi, have four sons and one daughter. Find out more on his blog, The Blazing Center.

18 Things I Try to Remember When Preaching

I love to preach and teach. Here are some things I try to think about when I’m preparing a message or preaching to the church or a youth meeting or midweek class. I don’t always do all these things, and I don’t always do them well, but I try to keep them in mind.

I want to be excited about the topic of the message, and excited to preach it to the church.

I want to be doctrinally sound and preach the truth of the passage.

I want to preach in a way that everyone can understand even children and teens in the congregation.

I want to consider my listeners—some are doing well, some are hurting or struggling, some are long-time believers, some are new, some have yet to believe.

I want to get into the message quickly.

I want to deliver the message with passion and joy.

I want to make the passage come alive for the listeners. For them to see and feel and smell the scene (if it’s a narrative), to feel like they are there.

I want to have a really good illustration or two. If I’m speaking to youth I definitely want to use gripping, interesting illustrations

If possible, I want to have some humor (especially with youth).

I want to show why the topic is so important, or so amazing, or so wonderful for us to know.

I want to show how this message testifies to Christ, displays Christ, what it teaches us about Christ.

I want to stir and excite my listeners to love Jesus and to take action for him. I want to stir the church to gratefulness for all God has done for us in Christ.

I want to show how the passage applies to our lives.

I want to reveal my own weaknesses and how I need the truth I’m preaching on. I want to preach first to myself.

I want to preach clearly and concisely. I don’t want to waste anyone’s time. I don’t want anyone to be bored.

I want to preach the gospel in every message and make a passionate appeal to believe in the historical, incarnate God, the Messiah, Jesus who became a man, lived a sinless life, died on a cross to pay for sins, rose from the dead, ascended to heaven and will someday return. I want these elements in every message.

I want to include those who have yet to believe in Jesus in my appeals.

I want to express to my listeners my care for them. That I want them to enjoy Christ. That I want to prepare them for this life and for eternity.

Mark Altrogge has been senior pastor of Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana, Pennsylvania, since 1982. He has written hundreds of songs for worship, including “I Stand in Awe” and “I’m Forever Grateful.” Mark and his wife, Kristi, have four sons and one daughter. Find out more on his blog, The Blazing Center.

2 Different Outcomes of Affliction

Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
but the LORD delivers him out of them all.
He keeps all his bones;
not one of them is broken.
Affliction will slay the wicked,
and those who hate the righteous will be condemned. (Psalms 34:19-21)

Affliction strikes both believers and unbelievers. Tsunamis and tornadoes don’t bypass church buildings. Believers aren’t immune from cancer or car wrecks. You can’t point to someone in a wheelchair and assume they’re an unbeliever.

In fact, Christians are promised afflictions, and plenty of them. “Many are the afflictions of the righteous.” In Isaiah 43:2 God promises, “When [not “If”] you pass through the waters, I will be with you” and “when [not “if”] you walk through the fire you shall not be burned.” Peter says, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12). We should expect afflictions.

But the outcome of afflictions is different for believers and unbelievers. David tells us in Psalms 34:21 “Affliction will slay the wicked.” Afflictions work no good in the wicked. Afflictions kill them. Kill their joy. Demolish their hopes and dreams and wipe out all they’ve worked for. Afflictions make the wicked bitter. They do nothing to produce godliness or draw them near to God. And eventually the afflictions of the wicked end their lives. “Afflictions will slay the wicked.”

But afflictions have a different effect on believers. “The Lord delivers him out of them all.” Our afflictions don’t slay us. They don’t kill our souls or our joy or our love for Jesus. They don’t slay our faith. In the past 38 years of being a Christian I’ve seen numerous believers endure horrific trials, yet still proclaim, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.” I’ve seen saints consumed by cancer, hobbled by accidents, crippled by Lou Gehrig’s disease, and my own mother debilitated by Alzheimer’s, yet joyfully loving Jesus till their bodies or minds gave out.

Rather than slaying the righteous, our afflictions make us more like Christ, draw us near to him, make us more humble and dependent on him. They produce character and perseverance. Our afflictions don’t slay our love for Jesus, but deepen it. They don’t sour us; they make us sweeter.

Afflictions don’t slay a believer’s faith because Jesus “keeps all his bones” – Jesus preserves our faith – he never lets go of us. Underneath are the everlasting arms. “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28). Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

But what about believers who aren’t healed, or who live in poverty all their lives? In what sense does God deliver them “out of them all”? First of all, God does physically heal, provide and deliver. But when he doesn’t, he delivers from the soul-killing power of affliction. He delivers from unbelief and despair. Pain and sorrow don’t win the day; God does.

And ultimately God will deliver us out of all our afflictions. In heaven, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). No more disease, poverty, pain, regret, sadness, broken hearts. Only pure unmitigated joy.

Affliction will slay the wicked.  But for us who have trusted him, Jesus will keep us till the day he slays affliction and crushes death beneath his feet.

Who Needs the Church Anyway?

I’ve recently heard of several Christians who aren’t involved in a church and don’t believe they need to be. This is no new phenomenon. In Hebrews 10:25, the author says “the habit of some” is to neglect meeting together, and he clearly commands us not to do this.

The church is the body of Christ. If my right hand suddenly decided it didn’t want to be part of my body and just left, how would that affect my body and how long would my hand survive on its own? (Maybe that’s what Thing did in The Addams Family). The church is the household or family of God, which implies our need for relationship.

In Ephesians 2:22, Paul tells the Ephesian believers that God is building them together locally to be a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. How can we be built together with other believers if we’re not part of a church?

Romans 12:5-6 says we are “members one of another” and have all been given gifts to build others up. If we’re not part of a church we deny others the opportunity to be encouraged by our gifts and cut ourselves off from the benefit of others’ gifts.

We need the preaching and teaching of the word of God by pastors and teachers. Paul urged Timothy to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Ti 4:2). Leaders are to equip the saints for the work of ministry through their preaching and teaching (Eph 4:12). If we’re not part of a local church we won’t be taught and equipped for the work of ministry as we should.

Hebrews says we neglect meeting together because of the deceitfulness of sin. To avoid being deceived we should increasingly encourage one another. If we aren’t part of a church we will be more subject to deception.

Peter says believers are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10). Peter says we’re a race, a nation, a people – and together we should proclaim God’s excellencies. Peter would have no category for lone or isolated believers.

If you don’t view being a part of a church as very important can I urge you to consider this verse?

As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight. (Psalm 16:3).

Maybe you’ve had a bad experience in the church. Maybe you see the deficiencies of Christians. Yet David looked at his fellow believers as “the excellent ones in whom is all my delight.” Your fellow believers aren’t perfected yet, but they are God’s excellent ones. Christ is in them and wants to bless you through them. Can I encourage you to ask God to lead you to a local church where you will find delight in your fellow believers?

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

Working out What God Has Worked In

In the movie Saving Private Ryan, Captain Miller (played by Tom Hanks) and several other men are ordered to find Private James Ryan (Matt Damon) and bring him home to his mother who had lost two other sons in the war. Along the way, they endure incredible hardships and most of them lose their lives to save this one man. Near the end, mission accomplished, Captain Miller lies dying. He pulls Ryan close to him and with his last dying breath gasps, “James, earn this. Earn it.” In other words, go back and live in such a way that shows you appreciated the sacrifices we made for you.

Believers in Jesus have been rescued from eternal destruction by his life, death, and resurrection. We can never earn what he did for us, but he calls us to live a life that shows our appreciation. We are to seek to become like the One who saved us, to walk out and work out the salvation he freely gave us.

Therefore, my beloved as you have always obeyed, so now, not only is in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12–13)

Someone once said, “We must work out what God has worked in.” Jesus saves us as a gift, and “sanctifies” us, or sets us apart, for himself. We then must begin to walk out that “sanctification,” in which the Holy Spirit moves and empowers us to cooperate with him to become like Christ. Someday, we’ll be as much like God as any creature can possibly become. We won’t be gods, but we’ll be more like God even than the angels! He’s changing us to think, act, and reflect the glory of Christ.

Suppose you were raised in another country, then adopted by an American family. You arrive on the doorstep with your bags. You’re technically a son or daughter, since you’ve been adopted. You have all the family rights and privileges, and you’re an heir of the family estate. Yet you know very little about the “culture” of the family—the foods they eat, the way they speak and interact, their values, religion, manners, and duties. Though you’re a son or daughter, it will take a long time to learn to act like it. The moment we believe in Jesus, we’re sons and daughters, but it takes years to learn to think and act like him.

When I learned to play guitar, trying to form chords with my uncooperative fingers felt like trying to corral wild cats. Switching chords felt like I was twisting my fingers into some kind of deformed bird claws. It was an excruciatingly slow process and hard work. But gradually it became more natural, and I didn’t even have to think to form a chord. That’s like the process of sanctification. We work. We kill sin and put on Christ. It’s hard at times. It’s not “natural.” But eventually we change because it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

It’s like we’re driving a locomotive. We sweat and strain as we pull levers, shovel coal, watch the tracks and the instruments. We put all our effort into it. But all the while, there’s this mighty engine propelling the whole train. God is at work in us. The Creator of the galaxies strengthens and propels us. That’s why Paul said:

By the grace of God I am what I am and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” (1 CO 15.10)

This is what gives me hope to drag myself out of bed every day and put my hand to the plow again. Despite failing so many times and feeling miles from being conformed to Christ, my hope is not in my own strength, but in God’s grace. He began this work in me and he’ll finish it (Php 1.6). He who called me is faithful; he will surely do it (1 Th 5.24).

In Saving Private Ryan, after Captain Miller charges Ryan to live a life worthy of their sacrifices, he dies. But Jesus didn’t charge us to work out our salvation, then disappear never to be seen again. He rose from the dead and sent his Spirit to infuse us with desire and power to obey. Yes, we labor, strain, and strive to reach the prize. But we do it in the power of God who works within us.

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

The Safest Place is in the Middle of the Battle

Yesterday morning a man shared this word with our church: “If God has called you into a battle, then the middle of the battle is the safest place to be, because that’s where God is.”

Wow. What a great word! Usually when I’m in the middle of a battle I would rather be anywhere else BUT there. Have you ever felt like running away? I have at times. In fact I told my wife recently that sometimes I feel like it would be a relief to change my name, move to another town and be a coffee Barista. Of course I would never do that. I would drive a hotdog truck.

But that wouldn’t be the solution. The best place to be is right where God has called me, no matter how hard it is, because that’s where God is.

Reminds me of one of my favorite verses, Isaiah 43:2:

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.

God doesn’t say that when we pass through the waters he will be watching over us, or thinking about us or observing us. When God calls us into fire and flood, he promises to be WITH us.

Reminds me of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in Daniel 3:23-25:

And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell bound into the burning fiery furnace. Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He declared to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?” They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.” He answered and said, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.”

I love this – old King Neb is scratching his head saying I thought we threw three men in there. Why do I see four? You see four because when God calls you into the fire, that’s the safest place to be because that’s where God is.

And when the time comes when God calls each of us to walk through the dark valley of the shadow of death, he will be with us there.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Psalms 23:4

What battle has God called you into today? Don’t forget he is with you – and wherever God is is the safest place to be.

Two Powerful Reasons to Trust in God

While the people of Israel were encamped at Gilgal, they kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month in the evening on the plains of Jericho. And the day after the Passover, on that very day, they ate of the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. And the manna ceased the day after they ate of the produce of the land. And there was no longer manna for the people of Israel, but they ate of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year. (Joshua 5:10–12)

Israel had just crossed the Jordan and were camped on the edge of the promised land. For 40 years God had provided manna from heaven for them to eat. 40 years, day after day after day. They’d never lacked and never been hungry, not even for a single day. Here on the edge of the promised land they celebrate the Passover and the day after they eat of the produce of the land. (That must have tasted pretty good after 40 years of eating nothing but manna day after day). And what is amazing is that the very day after they eat of the produce of Canaan, the manna ceases completely. This gives us (at least) two powerful truths about God and reasons to trust him.

The first is that he will never fail to provide for his children. If you believe in Jesus Christ, he will never leave you nor forsake you. He will never fail to give you all that you truly need. We may only have enough for today, but he will surely supply all we need for tomorrow. He told us to ask our heavenly Father to provide our “daily” bread, not our monthly or yearly bread. Jesus told us not to be anxious about tomorrow, but to trust God for each day’s provision. God is going to provide for you today. He will give you the strength, wisdom, and guidance you need for today.

The second truth this passage shows us about God is that he has a perfect timing for everything in our lives. No affliction will go a single day longer than he has planned. He knows the exact day and hour that he will bring each and every one of his blessings into our lives. He won’t forget. He won’t be a minute late. Nothing can stop God from fulfilling his every purpose for our lives in his perfect timing.

God will never fail to provide for us, and he will always provide for us at just the right time. He knows what will bring himself the most glory. We may feel like we’re tied to railroad tracks with a train bearing down on us. But like the hero in an old-time movie, Jesus will ride in at the right time and sweep us off the tracks just in the nick of time before the train gets to us.

Keep trusting your heavenly Father. Keep asking for your daily bread, daily strength, daily joy. He has abundant goodness stored up for you and he’s just waiting for the perfect time to pour it out.

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

Faith is War

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:7-8)

Faith is war.

It’s a fight. A battle. Faith is hard. It’s a fight to trust God when you can’t see him. It’s a fight to believe God is in control when all around us screams life has derailed. It’s a battle to thank Jesus that his steadfast love never ceases and his mercies are new every morning in the midst of pain and sadness. It’s a fight to believe Scripture rather than our eyes and circumstances. It’s a fight to forgive and resist bitterness and believe Jesus can change others’ hearts. It’s straining and wrestling to rejoice always. It’s a struggle to believe that in the end, God will work all this out for our good. To believe that Jesus will have the final word. To believe our sufferings are producing an eternal weight of glory. Faith is a fight to believe that following Jesus is better than sin.

Faith is a long fight. It requires endurance. A long uphill haul. And faith is a growing process. Our muscle of faith will grow stronger and stronger over time the more we are forced to use it. It begins as a mustard seed. It is “I believe, help my unbelief.” But it grows over time. That’s why faith is a long fight. When one battle is over, another one begins. Just when you’ve cut one enemy down with the sword of God’s Word, you have to pick up the shield of faith to quench another barrage of fiery darts of doubts and accusations. Faith is a lifetime war.

It’s a war with weapons. We must not forget about them. We must regularly take in God’s word, rehearse it, memorize it, recall it, use it, quote it, as Jesus did when he was tempted. We must shield ourselves from Satan’s lies that God is not good, God has abandoned us, God is not in control, God’s plan is not wise. We must conquer the accuser of the brothers by the blood of the Lamb and our testimony that God is sovereign, wise, faithful, and loving.

Faith is a war Jesus helps us in. We’re not fighting by ourselves. We have a great High Priest, a Mighty Mediator who has written our names on his palms and his heart. We have a Good Shepherd who protects us, leads us by still waters, revives our souls. We have the Holy Spirit of God who lives in us, guides us, speaks to us, and helps us. We have moment by moment access to the throne of grace where we can receive mercy and help in time of need, which is all the time. And Jesus has provided brothers and sisters to pray for us and stand with us. We’re not alone in this war.

Faith is a “good fight.” It’s a race with a crown at the end. It’s a war that ends in eternal, infinite glory and joy. It’s a war that is worth it. Don’t give up. Don’t turn back now. Seek God for fresh grace and strength this morning. Someday you will be so glad you kept going. It won’t always be this hard. There is good around the corner. Jesus is greater than all you are going through. He has loved you with an everlasting love and his everlasting arms are underneath you. Nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Keep fighting the good fight.

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

Powerful Promises for the Discouraged

The couple stood in my office, discouraged and downcast.

They were struggling in their relationship. They were new believers, newly married. The woman had a child from a previous relationship. They had very little money. They had conflicts. Communication problems. Very little income. They didn’t know how they were going to make it. They were frustrated at each other and had little hope.

I wonder what they thought when I urged them, “Don’t give up! Don’t quit! Keep seeking Jesus. Keep reading his word and praying and following him. If you do, I guarantee you Jesus will help you and change you. You may not see drastic changes from day to day, but I promise you that 5 years from now you will say to me you can’t believe how much Jesus has changed you.

They looked at me incredulously.

“Here’s why I’m so confident,” I said. Because I believe after talking with you that you are genuinely born again. That means the Spirit of God has come to dwell in you and he’s given you new hearts and new desires to obey God. And he has begun to transform you into the likeness of Jesus.

“Here’s why I’m so confident.  Because in Philippians 1:6 God says: ‘And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.’ Did you hear that? Paul said ‘I am SURE of this.’ What was he so sure of? That if God BEGAN a good work in the Philippians, he would COMPLETE that work.”

I went on. “And what is the ‘good work’ God has begun in you guys? The good work of making you into the likeness of Jesus.” Then I shared Romans 8:29 “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

“It’s a slow process,” I said, “but God never stops working. He began this good work in you and he won’t quit until you are completely conformed to Jesus’ image. Every day, little by little, he chips away here, adds something there, presses in here, squeezes a little there, and gradually we become more and more like Jesus. He won’t finish the work completely until he returns and we get our new resurrection bodies. But in the meantime, if you walk with Jesus, God will make you more and more like him.”

“So if you come back and see me in 5 years, you will say to me, ‘Mark, you won’t believe how much God has changed us. Our marriage is so much stronger today than when we came to see you 5 years ago.’”

I saw a glimmer of hope in their eyes. And after we prayed, they left my office, a little less discouraged.

They kept coming to our church. They kept pursuing Jesus. And I got to watch God transform them. I saw God keep his promises to make them more and more like Christ. And 5 years after that initial meeting, they had a couple more children and a much stronger marriage and were still changing. Well, it’s been about 25 years now since our meeting. They had more children, moved to a different state, but continued serving Jesus. And they recently posted on Facebook thanks to Jesus for another new grandchild.

I can still see them standing in my office downcast and discouraged. And I still think about my bold promise that if they kept following Jesus he would change them. They did. And he did.

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

Are you struggling today? Discouraged about your seeming lack of progress in Christ or slowness to change? Keep following Jesus. Keep reading his Word. Keep praying and fellowshipping with believers. Keep putting sin to death. Keep doing good. 5 years from now you will be amazed at what God does in you.

I can’t wait to see that couple that stood in my office years ago, standing in heaven shining with the glory of Jesus. I can’t wait to remind them of that day a long long time ago when someone promised how different they’d be in 5 years if they trusted Jesus.

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

God’s Incredible Promise of Guidance

Are you at a major crossroads? Need God’s guidance for a challenging child or teen? Facing a big decision and don’t know the right way to choose? This promise is for you…

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you. Psalm 32:8-9

God desires to give us his wisdom and guidance. He longs to help us. He freely gives his wisdom to those who seek him. In Proverbs he portrays Wisdom as standing on the street calling out, practically begging people to receive it. There’s no reluctance on God’s part to guide us. It is only our failure to ask that keeps us from receiving.

Once when attempting to install a new toilet, I overtightened one of the bolts that attached it to the floor and cracked the toilet. When my wife heard my anguished “Argggggggh,” she asked, “Did you pray about this before you started?” to which I replied, “No, and I’m not going to.” It’s only our failure to ask for God’s wisdom that we don’t receive it, not any lack of desire on God’s part to give it.

God himself will counsel us – “I” will instruct you.” God, the only being in the universe who has infinite knowledge and wisdom, promises to personally instruct, teach and guide us. He knows all things. He knows all possible outcomes. He fashions the hearts of everyone. He knows what our child needs most. He knows what will happen if we take that job. He knows what choice will bring blessing into our lives.

God WILL instruct teach and counsel. It doesn’t say he might. We can be absolutely confident God will guide us and give us wisdom. He’s not playing games with us. He won’t fail to answer our requests for guidance.

The only requirement God puts upon us is that we stay near him. That he doesn’t have to force us to stay near with bit and bridal like a stubborn mule. As long as we continue to abide in Christ, he will direct us. As long as we regularly seek the Lord in his word and prayer, he will get his direction to us one way or another. We won’t miss it.

Heavenly Father, thank you that you have promised to guide us and give your children wisdom. I ask you for it today. Please teach me and instruct me in the way I should go. Please give me wisdom in the decisions I must make today. Thank you that you long to give me wisdom more than I desire to receive it. Thank you that you are generous and give wisdom without reproach. Please guide me for your glory. Amen.

Are You a Part of What Jesus is Building?

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. MT 16:18

The church is the only institution on earth that Jesus is specifically building. Yes, Jesus establishes nations and helps us launch businesses, ministries, and careers. But he has a unique commitment to his church. He is personally building and protecting his church. Even the “gates of hell”—all the powers, schemes, and assaults of Satan and his demons—won’t be able to destroy Jesus’ church.

The church is the only earthly institution that will last for eternity. The great kingdoms of old have faded away, but the church is growing and stronger than ever. Ancient Egypt, with its Pharaohs and Pyramids, is history. Babylon no longer exists. The great kingdom of Rome has fallen. Nero and Caesar and others who persecuted the church have long passed away, but the church just keeps going. Someday the United States will be a memory. The biggest businesses and most successful companies will be forgotten. In eternity, no one will care about Apple or Toyota or Google. Only the church will remain for eternity.

So, if the church—Jesus’ body, his temple, his household, his bride, his beloved, his flock that he purchased with his own blood—is this important to Jesus, then should it not be important to his people? Should we not seek to contribute to and build and bless and strengthen and build up Jesus’ church? Should we not be committed to the one institution that will last for eternity? Should we not do all we can to promote the unity of the Spirit? Should we not be devoted to the fellowship and teaching of our church?

Many believers have written off the church. I recently talked with a man who told me he reads his Bible and prays every morning but wants nothing to do with a church. “They’re a bunch of hypocrites,” he seethed when I asked him why he so loathes the church. Maybe he’d had some bad experiences, but not every church is full of hypocrites. We’re weak and messy and fail often, but Jesus hasn’t given up on his people. He’s building his church, and he will be successful.

So, don’t give up on the church. Get involved. Serve wherever you can. Seek the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Give to the church. It’s an infinitely better investment than Apple. Be a part of Jesus’ church—some local church—somewhere. Jesus loves his church, despite its many flaws. And he’s building it brick by brick, day after day, slowly but surely. And despite its many flaws and weaknesses, Jesus will finish his work and perfect his temple to dwell in. If Jesus is so committed to building his church, I want to be too.

Mark Altrogge has been senior pastor of Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana, Pennsylvania, since 1982. He has written hundreds of songs for worship, including “I Stand in Awe” and “I’m Forever Grateful.” Mark and his wife, Kristi, have four sons and one daughter. Find out more on his blog, The Blazing Center.