Stephen Altrogge


Stephen Altrogge
Pastor, Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana, PA

Nobody Will Remember Me, and That’s a Good Thing

Remember that immensely popular rap song from a few years back that had the lyrics:

This is ten percent luck, twenty percent skill
Fifteen percent concentrated power of will
Five percent pleasure, fifty percent pain
And a hundred percent reason to remember the name!

That song was everywhere! Football commercials, video games, the radio, movies! And yet, without using Google, can you remember the name of the artist who performed the song? I couldn’t (it was “Fort Minor”). Kind of ironic isn’t it? An entire song devoted to being remembered, and yet no one can remember the artist.

I tend to read a lot of history. I recently finished reading a biography of Truman Capote, who is widely considered to be one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. Truman was constantly hobnobbing with famous people–the movers and shakers and news makers of his day. He was friends with movie stars and authors and politicians and socialities. And yet what amazed me as I read the book was that I had only heard of one or two of the big name celebrities.

The reality is very few people will remember me. This is not some sort of macabre, self-pity, nobody likes me, I’m a loser, gather round for a group hug, kind of statement. It’s simply the truth. Unless I assassinate a world leader (which I don’t plan on doing) or invent a cure for cancer (which I don’t forsee happening), I will simply fade into the mist of history.

Only a few people will remember me. I want to make sure I leave behind the right memories.

But there are a few people who will remember me, and I want to live my life in light of those people who will remember me.

So who is going to remember me?

THE LORD

In Matthew 6:6 Jesus said:

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.

In Matthew 6:19 Jesus said:

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.

In Matthew 10:42 Jesus said:

And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.

These verses, as well as hundreds of others, imply that God will remember every good thing we do in the name of Christ, and will reward us for those things. We will forget many of the good deeds we do in the name of Christ. Others will also forget those good deeds. My grandma, who was one of the most godly, gentle, servant-hearted people I ever knew, got Alzheimer’s late in life and forgot just about everything.

But the Lord will NEVER forget any good work done in his name.

When I stand before the Lord on judgment day, clothed in the righteousness of Christ, he will remember my name. He will remember every good deed, and he will reward me for those good deeds. In light of this reality, I want to live with all my might while I yet live. My name will be lost to history, but it will not be lost to the Lord.

MY FAMILY

The only other people who will remember my name after I die will be my family. My grandma died when I was only thirteen years old, but I remember her very clearly. What do I remember? I remember how generous she was with us. I remember how she loved to sing and dance to worship music. I remember how she constantly served my dad and mom. She left a legacy of godliness behind.

Charles Spurgeon said:

It is a blessed thing for some of us that we can look back on a father’s example and a mother’s example with nothing but unalloyed gratitude to God for both. But there are others among you who, in looking back, must say, “I thank God I was delivered from the evil influence to which I was subjected as a child.” Do not let your child ever have to say that of you, but ask for grace that in your own house you may walk with a perfect heart.

I can look back on my mom and dad’s example with unalloyed gratitude to God for both. Were they perfect, flawless parents? Of course not. But they were godly, generous, affectionate, prayerful, and devoted to God’s word. Most people won’t remember them, but I certainly will.

By God’s grace, I want to leave the same legacy behind for my children. I want my children to remember that I pursued and loved Jesus. I want my kids to remember that I delighted in them. I want my kids to remember how much I loved Jen.

Most people will forget me, and that’s okay. But a few people will remember me, and I want to make sure I leave behind the right kind of memories.


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


6 Ways to Kickstart Your Devotional Life

There are times when, for whatever reason, our devotional life goes stale. Bible reading seems like a colossal chore, our prayers feel tepid and weak, and our love for God ebbs. We feel like we are stuck in a spiritual rut, like we don’t have any soul traction, like we’re just spinning our spiritual wheels. These times of staleness can be incredible frustrating and discouraging.

Are you in a spiritual rut? Here are a few practical tips to breathe new life and vigor back into your devotional life.

PRAY! PRAY! PRAY!

All the practical tips in the world won’t make a lick of difference unless God moves mightily on your heart. God cannot be controlled. He is not a personal genie who can be summoned on command. He cannot be summarized or contained in a neat formula. But he promises to respond to our humble requests. He is a good father who loves to give good gifts to his children. In Luke 11:13 Jesus said:

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!

God loves to give the Holy Spirit to us, but we have to ask! If your devotional life is in a rut, humbly confess your cold heart to God and ask him to breathe white hot affection back into you.

READ A BOOK

Seeing the splendors of God through the undimmed eyes of another person can be tremendously helpful. One of the ways to see God through the eyes of someone else is to read a book. Often times our view of God is cluttered and clogged by the circumstances of life. Reading a book allows us to stand on the shoulders of someone else and see over all the clutter. If your devotional life is dim and blurry, take a short break from your regular Bible reading and spend some time savoring a good book. I recommend any of the books on my list of thirty books every Christian should read.

READ THE PSALMS

The Psalms are an intensely devotional section of scripture. The authors of the Psalms experienced the highs and lows of life, and they met God in the midst of those highs and lows. They experienced the faithfulness of God in the dry times and in the seasons of fruitfulness. If your devotional life is lacking oomph try spending some time in the Psalms.

START A BIBLE READING PLAN

Many times our devotions lack substance because we don’t appropriately plan them out. We meander from verse to verse, reading a bit here, a snatch there, yet never making any real progress through God’s word. If this describes your devotions, maybe you need a Bible reading plan to get you on track. The ESV Bible website has a bunch of different Bible reading plans to get you started. If your devotional life is lacking direction trying starting a Bible reading plan.

ABANDON YOUR PLAN

Some of us like plans a little bit too much. We like to make lists and then cross things off those lists. We like the feeling of progress, of moving forward, of gettin’ her done. We apply our love for plans to our Bible reading and thus read through the Bible every year like clockwork. This is a good thing, don’t get me wrong. But there are times when we need to abandon our plan and simply slow down our Bible reading. To delight in and savor a chapter, or a section, or just one verse. If your devotional life is feeling too rigid and stiff try abandoning your plan for a while.

CHANGE UP YOUR METHODS

Most of us read the Bible. After all, the Bible is a book and books are meant to be read. No argument from me. But remember, significant portions of the scriptures were originally intended to be heard. The apostolic letters were read aloud in the churches. The Psalms were read aloud in the synagogues. Scripture was meant to be both and read and heard. The ESV Bible site allows you to listen to the Bible instead of reading it. If your devotional life is feeling repetitive try listening to God’s word. Take notes as you listen.

Out of all these tips, the first is the most important. You can do all the right things and yet if God doesn’t work powerfully in your life nothing will happen. However, I know that God wants your devotions to be meaningful. He wants you to have a vibrant, joyful devotional life. In light of that truth I would encourage you to prayerfully try these different suggestions.

Don’t be content with a mediocre spiritual life. Press into God. He wants to meet you.


God Often Does His Best Work in the Darkness

Being in the valley of trials stinks. It’s painful, disorienting, and confusing. As we stagger and stumble along we often wonder, Where is God? Why is he allowing me to go through this? We feel stuck and broken, like we can’t move forward. We are perplexed, crushed, weighed down, and in the dark. We move ahead slowly, groping and grasping, hoping to find a handhold.

The reality is, however, that God often does his best work in the darkness. As senior demon Screwtape says to junior demon Wormwood in The Screwtape Letters:

Now it may surprise you to learn that in His efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, he relies on the troughs [low points, valleys, etc.] even more than the peaks; some of his special favourites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else.

God does not throw trials at us haphazardly, like an angry fan throwing a beer bottle at a baseball player. He does not accidentally let trials slip into our lives, like an absent-minded babysitter. No, God deliberately leads us into the furnace of trials for very specific reasons. He does not waste suffering. He is not a sadist who derives sick pleasure from inflicting pain on his helpless creatures. Every trial we experience has been handcrafted by God for our good. Trials are God’s kiln. We are the clay, he is the master potter.

What good does God accomplish in the darkness? Here are just a few of the thousands of things God accomplishes.

He Forces Us to Rely on Him

Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. (2 Corinthians 1:9)

Trials remind us of what is already true: we are desperately dependent on God. We cannot function apart from God. We cannot make it to heaven apart from the sustaining grace of the God who raises dead men. God takes us through trials to decrease our self-confidence and increase our confidence in him.

He Produces Steadfastness in Us

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. (James 1:2-3)

Without steadfastness we will never make it to heaven. We will be like seed that springs up quickly but has no root. We will have the life choked out of us by the cares of this world. God wants us to have a steadfast, steady faith, which is not easily rocked by trial and hardship. Trials cause our faith to mature and become steadfast.

He Prepares Us to Comfort Others

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

When we experience trials we also experience God’s comfort in a unique way. As God’s comfort flows into our lives, we are then divinely prepared to comfort others who are enduring trials. We could not adequately comfort others if we didn’t first receive God’s comfort. Trials ready us to comfort others.

Charles Spurgeon, who was well acquainted with trials, said:

None of us can come to the highest maturity without enduring the summer heat of trials. As the sycamore fig never ripens if it be not bruised, as the corn does not leave the husk without threshing, and as wheat makes no fine flour till it be ground, so are we of little use till we are afflicted. Why should we be so eager to escape such benefits? We shall have to wait with patience, saying, “The will of the Lord be done.” He waited to give grace to us; let us wait to give glory to him.

Take heart – God is using the summer heat of trials to bring you to the highest maturity.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Hard Part about Actually Changing

At least once per day, I find myself thinking, I’m pretty sure my kids are insane.

My daughter, Charis, is flipping out because she can’t wear the skirt she wants to wear. “You NEVER let me wear ANYTHING!” she tells Jen. I don’t usually point out that, technically speaking, we do let her wear clothes. My daughter Gwendolyn is screaming because I won’t let her eat the dishwasher detergent pouches that look suspiciously like candy. My daughter Ella has just thrown a roundhouse punch at Charis, because Charis won’t let her pretend to be Elsa, from Frozen. You get the point.

What I’m learning is that if I’m going to grow in patience, God has to put me in situations which actually require patience. Thus, God gives me children who are insane, in order that I might grow in love and patience.

For some reason, I tend to think that change happens in a vacuum. It’s like I think of sanctification as being some kind of divine magic trick. I pray that I would grow in mercy, and God magically makes me more merciful. I pray that I would trust God more, and God magically infuses me with more trust. I pray that God would help me be more loving, and, presto chango, I’m suddenly more loving.

Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. Sanctification happens through circumstances.

In James 1:2–3, it says:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.

God brings various trials into our lives in order that we might grow in steadfastness. We can’t grow in steadfastness unless God takes us through trials.

2 Corinthians 1:3–4 says:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

When we experience affliction, we also experience God’s comfort. We, in turn, are then able to comfort others with the same comfort we received. Being afflicted causes us to be more compassionate and merciful toward others, and prepares us to offer divine comfort to others. We could not offer this comfort unless we are first afflicted ourselves.

Jesus commands us to love our enemies. We won’t grow in loving our enemies until we have a tangible opportunity to do so. We won’t grow in trusting God until our budget becomes uncomfortably tight. We won’t grow in being merciful until we are let down by our close friends. We won’t grow in peace until our future becomes uncertain.

Don’t despise the circumstances in which God has placed you. He is using your crazy kids to teach you patience. He is using your singleness to teach you trust. He is using your extended illness to teach you rejoicing. He is using your tight budget to teach you dependence.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I hear someone screaming.


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


The God Who Actually Does Know What You’re Going Through

Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you criticize them, you are a mile away from them and you have their shoes. – Jack Handey

My friend Adam is a wise guy. Not in a, “A rabbi, a priest, and a vegan walk into a bar” sort of way, but in a Proverbs, real life street wisdom sort of way. He is a residence director at our local university, which means he works with college students every day. He deals with students in trouble, students in the dumps, students on academic probation, students on drugs, students who have been assaulted, and students who are on the verge of dropping out of college. In other words, he deals with kids who are pretty vulnerable. Kids who have really been slapped around by life.

When interacting with vulnerable kids Adam could easily resort to saying, “I know what you’re going through.” After all, that’s what we say when someone is in a tough spot. We try to relate their experience to our experience. We try to sympathize with them. To comfort them out of our own experience. To let them know they’re not alone. To make them feel loved. And that impulse to comfort others is a good impulse. But Adam doesn’t always do that. Why? Because he knows that in most cases he doesn’t really know what a person is going through. He may be able to relate to some circumstances, but he can’t really know what a person is going through. That is wisdom.

The reality is, when someone is suffering we don’t know what they’re going through. Even if we have experienced similar circumstances as a person who is suffering we don’t process the world the way they do. And we don’t have the same personal history, biological makeup, or support system. When someone is going through the meat grinder we can only know a tiny portion of what they are really experiencing.

Our limited ability to know the suffering of others is what makes 2 Corinthians 7:6 so precious. It says, “But God, who comforts the downcast….”

Jesus knows us fully. He knows our strengths and weaknesses, our family history, our biological makeup, our worldview. He knows every nook and cranny of us. He knows us better than we know ourselves. And he also knows suffering on an intense, personal level. Jesus’ knowledge of suffering is not abstract, ivory tower, textbook knowledge. Jesus was a man of sorrows. He was mocked, betrayed, and humiliated. As he hung on the cross he was cut off from the Father. Jesus knew excruciating, overwhelming, crushing sorrow.

The combination of Jesus’ omniscience and personal experience with deep suffering perfectly equip him to comfort us in our own suffering. He really does know what we’re going through, and he is ready to comfort us when we are downcast. He doesn’t leave us to muddle and slog through suffering on our own. He doesn’t tell us to suck it up, buck up, and get up. He meets us in our downcast state and pours out grace upon us.

Suffering tempts us to withdraw from God when in reality we should press hard into God. Are you downcast? Are you suffering? Do you feel like you’ve been chewed up and spit out? Do you feel like butter scraped over too much bread? Draw near to the God who comforts the downcast. Draw near to the God who knows you exactly and knows exactly what you need. Draw near in your weakness and weariness and ready-to-call-it-quits-ness.

God has a special place in his heart for the downcast. Move toward that place.


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


Waiting Patiently When the Story Goes Dark

There are times in our lives when it seems like everything has gone dark. Bleak. Black. Hopeless. The forces of good are being overrun, and the forces of Mordor are triumphing. Helm’s Deep is about to fall. The White Tower is in danger of being taken. We can’t see the way out, and we can’t see how any good will ever come out of the situation. When a child wanders from the Lord, it feels dark. When debilitating migraines take hold, it seems dark. When we can’t make the mortgage payment, it seems black. When our marriage is struggling, despair sets in.

Where is GodWhy isn’t he coming through? Has he abandoned me? What will happen to me and to my family?

It’s in the dark moments that we need to turn our eyes away from our circumstances and look to the one who is writing the story.

The Bible is full of bleak, black, helpless, hopeless moments. At age 75 God promised that he would make Abraham into a great nation. For twenty-five years Abraham waited, watching his body shrivel and shrink, watching the fulfillment of the promise become less and less likely. How many times during those twenty-five years did Abraham feel in the dark? How many times did he feel hopeless? But finally, at the age of one-hundred, God gave him a son. God came through. He was faithful.

Joseph had divinely inspired dreams in which he saw his family bowing down before him. Light. Then Joseph was sold into slavery. Dark. The Lord blessed everything he did in the house of Potiphar. Light. Potiphar’s wife had Joseph thrown into prison. Dark. Joseph correctly interprets the dreams of the official cupbearer and baker. Light. Joseph languishes in prison for two more years before he is called to interpret Pharaoh’s dream. Dark. Joseph is made second in command in Egypt. Light.

The point is, God often takes us through the darkness. He does this so that we might learn to trust him with all our hearts, and lean not on our own understanding. God wants us to know that he is our shepherd. He leads us beside still waters, and he leads us through the valley of death. He wants us to learn to trust him in both places. Often God lets our circumstances get so extreme that our only hope is God himself.

When our story gets dark we must look to the Author of our story. The story may seem bleak, but we can be absolutely sure that the Author is good.

Are you in the dark right now? Look up to the Author of your story.

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(Romans 8:38–39 ESV)


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


Is Mental Illness Actually Biblical?

I recently read two articles by a well known Christian author who is also closely connected to a Christian counseling foundation. The articles essentially argued that mental illness was a social construct created by secular doctors and psychiatrists, and therefore, is not biblical. So, when a person is depressed, he is really just experiencing sadness, and to try to treat it medically is to short circuit the power of God. When a person is anxious, she is really just experiencing worry, and to treat it medically is a secular answer to a spiritual problem. You get the idea.

The desire behind the article was good: the author was trying to demonstrate that Jesus is sufficient for every facet of life. However, I believe that treating mental illness as only (or even primarily) a spiritual problem is both profoundly unbiblical and incredibly hurtful to those who struggle with mental illness.

TOTAL DEPRAVITY REALLY MEANS TOTAL DEPRAVITY

The Bible teaches that every human being is totally depraved. This doesn’t mean that every person is as absolutely wicked and evil as they could possibly be. That would be utter depravity. Total depravity simply means that sin has affected every facet of my being, including both my soul and my body. Total depravity means that nothing works as God originally intended. My spiritual desires are affected and distorted by sin. My intellect is distorted by and affected by sin. And, most importantly (for this discussion), my body has been affected and distorted by sin.

Why do I get colds and headaches and backaches and indigestion and infections? Why do you have migraines and heart problems and kidney stones and glaucoma? We experience these things because we inhabit bodies which have been marked and marred by sin. Paul spoke directly to this when he said:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. (2 Corinthians 4:16)

Our outer self is wasting away. Our bodies don’t work correctly. They fall apart and fail us at the worst times. While we live in this fallen world, we live in bodies that are wasting away.

In >Romans 8:22–23, Paul wrote:

For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

Along with the rest of creation, we eagerly await for the day when Christ will return and we will receive our new, redeemed, resurrection bodies.

Until the day Jesus returns, I will live in a body which does not function as God originally intended. My brain, which is a key, central, integral part of my body, will not function correctly. Chemicals will become imbalanced. Serotonin will not be properly absorbed. Norepinephrine will be unevenly distributed. Synapses won’t fire correctly. My brain, just like every other part of my body, is prone to illness.

I would argue that if we truly believe in total depravity, then we must accept mental illness as a biblical category. If I believe that sin has affected every part of my body, including my brain, then it shouldn’t surprise me when my brain doesn’t work correctly. I’m not surprised when I get a cold; why should I be surprised if I experience mental illness? To say that depression, anxiety, ADHD, bipolar, and every other disorder, are purely spiritual disorders is to ignore the fact that we are both body and soul.

Mental illness is not something invented by secular psychiatrists. Rather, it is part and parcel with living in fallen, sinful world.

MENTAL ILLNESS IN THE CHURCH

Treating mental illness as purely a spiritual disorder is very hurtful to those who struggle with mental illness because it points them to the wrong solution. Let me explain. For many years I’ve dealt with chronic physical anxiety. I regularly experience a clutching sensation in my chest, shortness of breath, adrenaline surges, and a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. On rare occasions, the anxiety is tied to something I’m worried about, but 90% of the time the physical symptoms I experience aren’t at all connected to worry. I’ll be working away on my computer, not thinking about anything, when a feeling of anxiety suddenly descends upon me.

In those moments, I don’t need to be told not to worry. I don’t need to be told to exercise more faith in the promises of God. I don’t need to be told to snap out of it. What I need is encouragement to persevere. I need to be reminded that, even in the midst of suffering, Jesus is near. I need to be reminded that my light and momentary afflictions are producing an eternal weight of glory. I need to be encouraged to press into Jesus.

And… I need to be connected to someone who can help me deal with the physical aspects of anxiety.

Here’s the unfortunate reality: even if my thinking is biblical, faith-filled, and God-honoring, my physical symptoms of anxiety probably won’t go away. Why? Because most of the time the problem is primarily physical. Something isn’t working correctly in my brain, which in turn causes me to experience the physical symptoms of anxiety.

When interacting with Christians who experience anxiety, depression, PTSD, or any other form of mental illness, we need to treat them as whole people. We need to treat people as both body and soul. Do they need to exercise faith in the wonderful promises of God? Sure. But they also need to deal with the physical aspects of mental illness as well. Doctors are a wonderful gift from God who can offer help to those who struggle with mental illness.

We need to place mental illness in the same category as every other form of illness. When a person experiences chronic migraines, they most certainly will be tempted to doubt the goodness of God. We can serve them by encouraging them that God is good, and that he cares for them. But we also can serve them by taking them to the best migraine specialists in the country.

If we’re going to effectively care for fellow Christians who struggle with mental illness, we need to recognize that mental illness is a real thing. We aren’t only souls. Rather, we are a complex composition of soul and body. Let’s make sure we address both the soul and the body.


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


The Freedom of Not Being the People Fixer

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When it comes to fixing things, I’m absolutely horrendous. You know how when someone is a terrible dancer, people say, “He has two left feet,”? Yeah, I’ve got two left hands.

If something breaks on one of our minivans (suburban parents represent!), I’m usually relatively clueless. I can make a vague, occasionally educated guess (“That squirrel on fire sound may be some sort of belt.”), but I’m always at the mercy of the mechanics.

And nothing against mechanics, but they make me feel like a moron. “Yeah, what you’ve got is a loose left headlight shifter. It’s caused by a slipped rotor bearing that’s rubbing against the twisted wicket. And it costs $13,000 to fix.”

It’s frustrating, but I’m simply not good at fixing things.

And it turns out I’m not good at fixing people and situations either.

I’ve learned this the hard way.

When I was younger, I held the mistaken belief that I could somehow repair people and broken situations.

So, when I got into a conflict or felt like someone was sinning, I made it my job to fix the problem. Dr. Fixer, prescribing spiritual solutions one Bible verse at a time.

Struggling to trust God? Here, take a dose of Romans 8:28.

Struggling with anger? Two spoonfuls of James 1:20 and a good night’s sleep should do the trick.

Worried about the future? I’m going to give you 20 milligrams of Matthew 6:25. If you’re still experiencing symptoms, double the dose.

If a person didn’t change rather quickly, I became…rather frustrated. I got angry, assuming that the person was choosing not to change. That they simply weren’t believing God’s word enough. That if they could just get those verses pounded into their hearts, the sin and situation would resolve itself.

They say a watched pot doesn’t boil. This is stupid. Of course it does…I’ve seen it (I clearly need new hobbies). But a watched person almost never changes – at least not at the speed I think they should.

Why is this? Two reasons.

Reason #1: I’m Not God

It turns out that God doesn’t usually change people quickly. This seems weird, at least on the surface. If our holiness is a good thing, then why doesn’t God simply make us holy right away? He could do this. It’s not like it’s beyond his ability. But he doesn’t.

This means that he must care just as much about the process of change as the change itself. It turns out that God reserves the right to change people how he wants, when he wants, and through whatever means he wants.

Let’s put it this way: God gets a unique glory through the process of change that is different from the change itself.

If holiness was a mechanical, controllable process, like a medical prescription, we could take glory for changing ourselves. But the reality is that we can’t produce godliness in ourselves or other people. We’re called to strive for obedience and put sin to death, but ultimately God is the one who must produce the growth.

In 1 Corinthians 3:5-7, Paul puts it this way:

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.

Paul refused to take credit for both the belief and the growth of the Corinthians. Why? Because God gives growth and takes all the glory for it.

When I try to force people to change, I try to take the place of God.

[gulp]

Reason #2: Growth Is Really Slow

This is a slight variation on the first point. Spiritual growth is a really, really, really slow process. I see this in my own life. There are sins that I’ve struggled with for years. Yes, I’ve made some progress, but that progress has been waiting-in-line-at-the-DMV slow. I have to hear something about 10,000 times before I actually get it.

Yet for some reason, I assume other people should change quickly. I assume that if you’ve heard a particular scripture once or twice, you should be able to immediately put it into practice.

Sis-boom-bah, presto change-o.

But when you read through God’s word, the process of sanctification is always described in slow, quiet terms. Psalm 1 describes the righteous man like this:

He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season.

You can’t actually see fruit growing. It’s not like you sprinkle some fertilizer on a tree and then it suddenly explodes with oranges. Fruit grows slowly and shows up in seasons. Farmers don’t look for corn in the dead of winter because they know that’s not how it works.

God doesn’t do quick. He does slow and methodical over a long period of time.

I’m ridiculously slow to change. I should automatically assume others are as well.

Freedom From Being The Fixer

These two truths are radically freeing. I don’t have to fix people or situations. In fact, trying to fix them almost always makes them worse. Trust me, I’ve tried.

I can’t create godliness in myself, and I can’t create it in my kids, wife, friends, or family. That’s God’s job. I’m not the Holy Spirit. I’m not the one who convicts of sin and righteousness. When I try to do God’s job, I inevitably make a mess of the whole thing.

I’m simply called to patience. Yes, there will be times when I share a verse with someone, but most of the time I’m supposed to wait for God to do the changing.

I’m not the fixer.

And that’s a really good thing.

Read the original article on "The Blazing Center" here


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


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)


The Only Spiritual Gifts Test You'll Ever Need

I recently saw a spiritual gifts test booklet that made me cringe.

It was incredibly detailed, stretching on for 80+ pages, and included a complex set of questions and explanations. It was like the LSAT but more complicated and confusing.

As I skimmed it, I thought, Is this spiritual gifts test really necessary? Is figuring out my God-given gifts really this complex?

Thankfully, I don’t think things need to be so difficult. In fact, I think determining your spiritual gifts is incredibly simple.

God wants you to know your gifts. He’s not hiding them from you. You don’t have to embark on a lengthy, soul-searching journey culminating in transcendent mystical revelation.

Figuring out your spiritual gifts requires only two questions.

What Am I Good At?

Spiritual gifts fall into two categories: ordinary and extraordinary.

Now, to be clear, all spiritual gifts are extraordinary in that they all come from God. But some gifts operate through “ordinary” means while others are out of the ordinary (prophecy, healing, etc.).

Everyone has both ordinary and extraordinary gifts. You may disagree with this if you think the supernatural spiritual gifts aren’t for today, but that’s for a different post. For the sake of this “spiritual gifts test”, let’s focus on the ordinary gifts.

Romans 12:6-8 shows you how to identify your spiritual gifts:

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

In other words, if you’re good at something that’s probably your spiritual gift. Not super complicated here.

If you have a big capacity for serving people, you probably have the gift of serving. If you find yourself regularly compelled to give sacrificially, above and beyond your normal giving, you probably have the gift of giving. If you’re good at teaching, that’s probably your gift.

I don’t think the gifts list in Romans 12 is meant to be exhaustive. I believe God gives people loads of gifts that aren’t specifically mentioned. It’s meant as instruction for how to use our gifts (with everything in us).

You don’t need an 80-page spiritual gifts test to figure this out. If you seem to be particularly good at something, that’s probably a gift from God (unless we’re talking something like competitive eating).

These gifts are to be used to build up the church.

What Do Other People Say You’re Good At?

God also uses others to confirm our spiritual gifts.

If you have zero idea what your gifts might be, ask your friends, “What am I good at?”

Don’t do this in an annoying, fishing for compliments sort of way. Just tell them you’re trying to figure out how to more effectively serve.

If they tell you that administration is your strength, run with that. Try to find more opportunities to serve with your organization skills. If they tell you that you’re good at helping people find jobs (which is a way of serving), run hard at that. If you’re good at explaining the Bible, look for opportunities to lead Bible studies.

Again, God doesn’t want this to be complex. He wants you to know your gifts. This isn’t like those career choice tests you took in high school where you could end up as a tax lawyer or a brick layer. God makes this simple and straightforward.

You Can Grow In Your Spiritual Gifts

God wants you to know your gifts and grow in them. Spiritual gifts aren’t like your coordination levels, which top off and can never be improved. They’re like plants which can be nurtured and strengthened.

In the parable of the talents, the master gives one 5, another 2, and another 1. The focus of the parable isn’t on how many talents each was given, but what they did with them.

The first two went to work immediately, busting their butts to increase the number of talents they had. The third one went hoarder style and buried his talent in the ground.

When servants 1 and 2 doubled their talents, the master said, “Well done.” He reamed out the third one, rebuking him for being so wicked and lazy.

The point is that doesn’t matter how many gifts you have or how impressive they are, but how you use them. God desires you to use your gifts, which in turn causes them to increase. If you don’t use your gifts they’ll atrophy, like a muscle after surgery.

God says, “Well done,” to those who get busy, not those who are the most impressive.

Keep It Simple

The whole idea of a spiritual gifts test can make things way more complicated than God desires. It’s not complex. It’s not mysterious or mystical. What are you good at? What do others affirm?

If you still don’t feel like you know what your gifts are, try serving in a bunch of areas and see what sticks.

God wants you to serve him and he’ll make it clear.


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


Man Finally Finds Calling... at Age 80

We live in the age of the instant. Our information is delivered to us in real-time, nugget-sized bites. An earthquake rumbles in Virginia, and the information arrives in Washington D.C. before the tremors do. The birth of a child is instantly blasted onto Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for all to see and rejoice. When I have a bad customer experience I can do an instant, cathartic venting session to all my online friends. If a YouTube video takes more than six seconds to load, I stop watching it. I mean, seriously, who’s got that kind of time to spare?

I. Hate. Waiting. With a zealous passion that probably borders on the psychopathic.

I would rather drive the long way to get somewhere than sit in stand-still traffic, even if sitting in traffic will get me to my destination faster. I would rather have a sharp stick to the eye than wait in the DMV. Don’t tell me the video needs to buffer. Don’t tell it’s going to be an hour until we can get a table. Don’t tell me my item is back-ordered and will be shipped in six weeks. Waiting grates against every high-speed, now, now, now fiber in my body. And this is a problem.

Why is it a problem? Because God does some of his deepest, most profound, most heart-changing work in times of waiting.

Moses was approximately eighty years old when he met God at the burning bush (Acts 7:30). Eighty! By the time most people hit eighty they are getting ready to sink the last putt on the last hole. Their life is winding down, literally and figuratively. They’ve accomplished just about everything they’re going to accomplish. They’re not going through an end-of-life crisis. And yet God saved Moses’ greatest public work for the last third of his life.

For the first forty years of his life, Moses was a big man about town. He was a Prince of Egypt. He was a public figure doing important things. Then Moses killed a man and was forced into hiding. Moses spent the next forty years in the desert doing nothing. Well, not nothing. He was a shepherd. But he certainly wasn’t doing public ministry of any sort. He wasn’t writing books or going on a speaking tour or leading people. He didn’t have a popular blog or podcast. He was shearing sheep and fighting off predators and cleaning up sheep poop. Not too glamorous.

What was God doing in Moses during those forty desert years? He was doing heart work. 

As Moses tended the sheep, God tended Moses’ heart. He taught Moses to lead the people of Israel by first teaching him to tend sheep. As Moses worked with sheep, God was preparing his heart to work with people. Faithful in little, faithful in much. Faithful in waiting, faithful in moving.

Forty years is such a long time! I haven’t even been alive for forty years. And yet that’s how long it took God to get Moses ready. God seems to be like that. His time frame is so much longer than ours and he works so much slower than we would like. Which I guess is appropriate given the fact that he’s God and he has the appropriate perspective. It’s just that most of the time I wish God could move a little quicker. My time frame is usually in hours, days, and if it’s a really long wait, months. God’s time frame is millenia.

Slowness seems to be God’s preferred method of operation. It was years between God’s promise of a son to Abraham and the birth of that son. During those waiting years God pressed and shaped and molded Abraham’s faith. It was years between David’s annointing as king and his ascension to the throne. As David was hiding in caves and dodging spears God was doing heart work on David. He was making David into a man after his own heart.

We tend to chafe when it comes to waiting. We want God to move and we want him to move now. We want him to save our child right now. We want him to provide financially right now. We want him to open a barren womb right now. We want him to deliver us from illness right now. We want him to provide a spouse right now. When God doesn’t come through quickly, we start to complain and challenge God.

I’m not trying to minimize the pain or challenge of waiting in any way. Waiting is really hard and emotionally taxing. But as we wait let’s embrace the heart work God is doing in us. What is God teaching you as you wait? Is he teaching you to trust his promises more fully? Is he teaching you to rely on provision more heavily? Is he teaching you to rest in care more completely?

As we wait let’s remember the words of Peter regarding the coming of Christ:

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

God may move slowly but he knows what he’s doing.


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


Is Your Phone Drowning out the Voice of God?

It’s no secret that I’m a pretty big tech nerd. I love my iPhone, my iPad Air, and my Macbook Pro. I love the fact that all three of my devices seamlessly integrate, to the point where I can even take a phone call on my Macbook. I love using Twitter and Facebook to connect with people (although I’m starting to despise the “personality” tests that are beginning to dominate FB—no you would not be Luke Skywalker if you were a Star Wars character). I try to stay up on all the latest gadgets and apps and video game systems. I’d like to get a smart watch. I love the little tracking chip I had installed in my neck (just kidding). Needless to say, I spend quite a bit of time in front of a screen.

And while I’m certainly not opposed to spending time in front of a screen, I’m beginning to wonder if I my screen time is causing me to not hear God’s voice. You see, God is speaking to me all the time. He speaks to me a thousand times a day. The question is: Am I listening?

Now before you scream, “Heretic!” and burn me at the stake, let me explain. God is speaking to me all the time, but not audibly, not in the “still small voice” kind of way (“Wear the red socks, Stephen!”), and not by causing the clouds to form a cross, or something weird like that.

God is speaking to me all the time through creation.

Psalm 19:1–2 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.”

Every day, the brilliant, blinding, healing, heating sun cries out, “I was created, and my Creator is glorious!” The stars sing a three billion part harmony, of which the main refrain is, “We were made by a creative, brilliant, overwhelming God!”

Matthew 6:26 says, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”

My house is surrounded by trees, and those trees are full of birds. Every time a bird eats a nut or insect or worm, it is declaring, “Someone is taking care of me, and that same Someone will take care of you! If God takes care of me, don’t you think he’ll take care of you?”

Isaiah 40:8 says, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.”

The trees that surround my house are currently changing colors and dropping leaves. As a leaf falls to the ground, its dying cry is, “I perish quickly, but the Word of God lasts forever! Trust it!”

God has filled the world with reminders of his glory, splendor, love, affection, and fatherly care. God really does want to speak to us through the sunshine and the Milky Way and the sparrows and the flowers. Creation is constantly belting out the glory of God, if only we have eyes to see and ears to hear.

Technology is a tremendous blessing. But I’m beginning to wonder if all my texting and Tweeting and Instagramming might be crowding out the song of creation. I’m wondering if the constant beeps and chimes and space sounds (my text message alert) are drowning out the glory of what is happening all around me. Maybe I would worry less if I spent less time on my phone and more time pondering the birds. Maybe I would have more joy if I spent less time “liking” things on Facebook and more time basking in the sunshine. Maybe I would treasure God’s Word more if I spent more time kicking around in the leaves.

Sorry, gotta run. My text messages keep piling up.


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


Are You Really Interpreting the Bible Literally?

Interpreting the Bible literally can be a good thing. It probably means that you want to know exactly what God says and obey his words. It means you don’t want to play Bible roulette with which verses you obey. It means you’re willing to obey all the commands of the Bible, even the painful ones.

But interpreting the Bible literally can also get you into a lot of trouble. Harold Camping thought he was interpreting the Bible literally, which in turn led him to mispredict the end of the world…twice. Pinstripe wearing prosperity preachers think they are interpreting the Bible literally, which leads them to teach that God never wills illness. Heck, the hellfire, hate-throwing folks at Westboro Baptist Church probably think they are interpreting the Bible literally.

So what does it mean to truly interpret the Bible literally? How can we be sure that our “literal” interpretation of the Bible isn’t actually a theological hack job? Here are some simple questions to help you truly interpret the Bible literally.

What did the original author intend to convey to the original audience? 

The first question to ask when reading the Bible should not be, “What does this mean to me?” The first question always must be, “What was the original author trying to say to the original audience?” Ask questions like:

  • Was the author seeking to encourage the exiled people of Israel?
  • Was the author seeking to convince the Jewish people that Jesus was the Messiah?
  • Was the author seeking to correct theological error in the church?
  • Was the author seeking to encourage Christians in the midst of persecution?

Understanding the original intent of the passage guards us from reading a modern meaning back into Scripture. Does it take work and study and thinking to wrestle the original meaning from the text? You bet. But it’s valuable, necessary work.

What writing style is used for this section of Scripture?

The Psalms are primarily poetry, which means we should expect word pictures, similes, and metaphors. The epistles of Paul are letters, which means we should expect a relatively straightforward, logical progression. The gospels are narratives, which means we should expect all the elements of an eyewitness story to be in place. Revelation is apocalyptic in nature, which means we should expect highly symbolic language. We can’t interpret the Psalms in the same way we interpret the espistles of Paul. We can’t interpret the gospels in the same way we interpret Proverbs. Each scripture must interpreted in light of its literary genre. We get into trouble when we start mixing up our genres.

Where does this section of Scripture fall in light of salvation history?

All of Scripture must be interpreted through the lens of God’s plan of salvation. When reading the Old Testament, ask yourself, “How do these stories, commands, or prophecies point to Jesus, and how are they fulfilled by Jesus?” After all, Jesus said that all of the law and the prophets spoke about him. We get into theological trouble when we start applying Old Testament commands, stories, and prophecies without first looking at them through the lens of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension, and return.

What is God’s intended outcome for this section of Scripture?

In other words, how does God want me to respond to this command, promise, warning, or rebuke? Should I worship? Should I repent? Should I take courage? Should I marvel? God’s word is not meant to be read and dissected like a chemistry textbook. It is living and active. God speaks to us when we read his word. He wants us to respond to his word, to obey his word, to live by his word. We are to be doers of the word, not hearers only.

How does this passage line up with the rest of the Bible?

A general rule of thumb for Bible interpretation is that clear passages always interpret unclear passages. So, when James says that we are justified by our works, we interpret that passage in light of all the Bible says about justification by faith. When Paul says that women must stay silent in church, we interpret that in light of Paul’s teaching that both men and women can publicly prophesy in church. We get into trouble when we isolate passages of Scripture.

Massive books have been written on the subject of scripture interpretation. Obviously I can’t cover all my bases in one short blog post. These are general rules of thumb, and need to be applied with wisdom. If you’re looking for a good book on the subject, I recommend How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth by Gordon Fee.


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


5 Lies Sin Tells Me

LIE: This is such a minor, insignificant sin! It’s not really a big deal in God’s eyes.

TRUTH: Every sin is a horribly offensive to God. Sin is the sum of all evils, the opposite of all that is good, holy, and beautiful. Even the smallest of my sins required the death of the Son of God. There is no such thing as a minor sin. Every sin is cosmic treason.

LIE: I’ll give into sin this one time, then I’ll be done with it. I just need to get it out of my system.

TRUTH: Every time I give into a sin it becomes more difficult to break the power of that sin. Sin has a way of sinking it’s barbed hooks deep into my heart. I can’t simply sin and then walk away from it unscathed. The more I give in to sin, the more entangled I become. Sin always leaves scars.

LIE: This sin is part of who I am. I’ve always struggled this way and I always will sin this way.

TRUTH: Sin does not define my identity! I am a new creation in Christ. Christ has set me free from the enslaving power of sin. I absolutely do not have to obey the sinful passions that surge through me. I may have always struggled this way, but my past does not define my future.

LIE: I need to give in to this sin in order to be happy.

TRUTH: Sin never provides true happiness. It promises sweetness, yet ultimately delivers a payload of destruction, dissastisfaction, ruined relationships, and hardness of heart.

LIE: God wants me to be happy; therefore it’s okay for me to give in to sin.

TRUTH: God does want me to be happy. However, my happiness will only rise as high as my holiness. Sin ultimately erodes and destroys true holiness and true happiness.


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.


We Need to Stop Blaming Parents for “Wayward” Teens

Did you hear about Ben?

No, I didn’t. What happened?

Well… this isn’t gossip; it’s just so you can pray for him. He got caught smoking pot. Apparently, he’s been doing a lot of drugs lately. And I think he might be sleeping with his girlfriend.

Really? That’s sad. Maybe his parents need to get more involved in his life. You know, bring more discipline. Keep him in line. That’s what I do with my kids. I lay down the rules in my house, and if they break the rules, they pay the price. If I caught my kids smoking pot, they’d face some serious consequences. My kids would never smoke pot.

Keep him, and his parents, in your prayers. They need it!

We’ve all had an experience similar to the one described above. A teenager in the church gets caught in sin. Maybe it’s drugs, sex, an eating disorder, cutting, or porn. It doesn’t really matter what the issue is. What does matter is how quick we are to assign blame to the parents of the child.

Many of us, either consciously or unconsciously, hold to the idea that if we do all the right things as parents, our children will turn out okay. If we educate them properly, faithfully teach them the Bible, and pray for them on a daily basis, they will become Christians, pursue holiness, avoid sin, and serve faithfully in the church. We treat parenting like some sort of divine equation. If we input the right things into our children, our children will then output the right things. If this, then this.

When a teenager goes AWOL, we immediately assume that the parents must have failed him in some way. His parents must not have brought enough discipline into his life. His parents must not have prayed for him enough, read him the Bible enough, sent him to VBS enough. If his parents had done the right thing, the child wouldn’t be plunging headlong into sin.

We really need to stop blaming parents for wayward teens. 

Two reasons.

First, only God can cause a teenager to be born again. In reality, there is no such thing as a “wayward” teen. There are only two types of teenagers: spiritually dead teens and born-again teens. A spiritually dead teen will always act according to his nature. He will plunge into sin with great delight because that’s what sinners do. That’s what you and I did before God caused us to be born again. It shouldn’t surprise us when a teen in the church dives into sin. If he isn’t born again, that’s exactly what we should expect him to do.

In >Romans 8:7–8, Paul describes the unconverted teenager:

For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

The unconverted teenage girl is hostile to God. She absolutely cannot submit to God’s law, and she absolutely cannot please God. We shouldn’t be surprised when she has sex with her boyfriend. After all, isn’t that what non-Christians do?

Should her parents do all they can to restrain her from sin? Of course. But the reality is, they may be able to curb her behavior, but they can’t change her heart. Only Jesus Christ, the mighty warrior and sinner’s friend can accomplish such a great task. When we blame parents for the sinful behavior of their teens, we put the parents in the place of God. We must stop expecting parents to do what only God can do.

The second reason we need to stop blaming parents for the sinful behavior of their teens is that blaming cuts the parents off from what they desperately need. When a dad is dealing with the craziness and heartbreak of a son on drugs, what he needs most from those in his church is shoulders to weep on. When a mom is dealing with her sexually active daughter, what she needs most is to be reminded of the mighty God who saves even the hardest of sinners. Parents don’t need condemnation or criticism, they need grace. They need their fellow brothers and sisters to come alongside of them, to pray with them, and to pray for them.

As members of the body of Christ, we are called to bear on another’s burdens, and there are few burdens heavier than parenting. There are few things that weigh heavier on a parent than the salvation of their son or daughter. When we blame parents for their teenager’s sinful behavior, we fail to help the parents bear the heavy burden they are carrying.

Are parents called to faithfully shepherd their children in the ways of the Lord? Of course. Will parents fail in a variety of ways? Of course. Despite these things, let’s stop blaming parents for the sinful behavior of their teens. When a teen in the church is sinning, let’s come alongside her parents with love, prayer, and support. Let’s fulfill the law of Christ by loving one another, instead of blaming one another.


Stephen Altrogge is a writer, pastor, and knows a lot about Star Wars. 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.


The 7 Types of People You Meet in Sunday Worship

One of the great things about the Sunday gathering, is that people of ALL sorts gather together to sing to the Lord.

Here are the SEVEN types of people you find in worship.

Heart Of Worship Harry – Harry is always trying to get back to the “heart” of worship. Don’t try to slip anything flashy past Harry. Lights? Uhh, no. Smoke? You’ve got to be kidding. A heavy dose of electric guitar? No thanks. Those are all distractions.

Harry was content with worship ONCE. When he was by himself in the woods.

Tambourine Tom – When Tom was in college, he wanted to be in a band. There was just one problem: he sucked at music. Unfortunately, Tom’s friends didn’t have the heart to tell him just how bad he was. They didn’t want to hurt his feelings or put a damper on his glam-rock dreams.

So, they gave him a tambourine.

Tom has been bringing his tambourine to church ever since.

The worship leader loves Tom.

Clappy Claire – Claire has passion. She’s overflowing with joy. She’s excited to sing and clap. Claire only lacks one thing:

RHYTHM.

Instead of clapping with the music, Claire claps with the lyrics. The phrase, “Lift up your voice and sing,” contains exactly SIX claps.

Claire has a bit of trouble on the song “A Mighty Fortress” (2,392 claps).

Harmony Henry – Henry was in choir all through high school and college. He is physically incapable of singing the melody of any worship song.

Too Loud Terry – If there’s one thing Terry can’t stand, it’s worship music that is too LOUD! It’s so loud she can’t hear herself sing. There is NO way that God is pleased with such a racket.

Worship needs to be softer. Always. Softer. No, that’s too loud. Softer still.

There was ONE time when worship was the right volume. That was when the entire band got food poisoning and the church had to do an accapella Sunday.

Every Sunday afternoon, Terry emails the worship leader to let him know that the worship was too loud.

Off-Key Oscar – Oscar loves to sing, and he sings louder than anyone.

Unfortunately, Oscar sings like a dying ringwraith.

Thankfully, God loves a joyful “noise”.

Personal Space Paul – For Paul, worship is a FULL body experience. He lifts his hands, claps with serious passion, and generally gets his worship groove on.

Just be careful not to stand too close to Paul. There’s a good chance you’ll get a shot to the jaw.


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


Jesus Makes Sense of My Complicated Relationship with the Psalms

Lately I’ve been loving me some Psalms. The Psalms are so personal, so intimate, so passionate, so full of emotion and intensity. They soothe and encourage and uplift the soul. Man, when I read about my Shepherd walking with me through the Valley of Death that is some seriously good, seriously sacred stuff. When I read about finding fullness of joy in God’s presence forevermore that is right in my wheelhouse. When I read about God being my portion I am treading on holy ground.

But there are certain things which make my relationship with the Psalms… complicated. For example, Psalm 10:15 reads, “Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer; call his wickedness to account till you find none.” Awww man. What am I supposed to do with this verse? Am I supposed to pray God would break the arms of wicked people? What about all the stuff Jesus says in the New Testament about loving your enemies and doing good to those who mistreat you? How do arm breaking and loving your enemies fit together?

Then there are verses like Psalm 15:1-2, which read:

O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart…

How can I possibly embrace this Psalm? Only the blameless can dwell with God on his holy hill. Only the one who does what is right and speaks the truth in his heart can sojourn with God. Am I blameless? Do I always do what is right and speak truth in my heart? Uhh, hardly. And David, who wrote this Psalm, wasn’t exactly blameless either. He had murder and adultery on his rap sheet.

So what are we supposed to do with the violent prayers scattered throughout the Psalms? And how should we interpret the Psalms in which the author proclaims his righteousness?

In Sunday School the answer to every question is “Jesus” or “the Bible.” In this case the Sunday School answer is the correct answer.

Jesus is the key to unlocking all the Psalms.

Almost all the Psalms were written by David, God’s appointed king over Israel. When the wicked threatened and attacked David they weren’t only attacking David, they were also attacking God himself. As God’s appointed king David represented God’s rule and reign on the earth. To rebel against God’s appointed king was to rebel against God himself. Therefore it was just and right for David to pray God’s punishment upon the wicked. David was praying that God would destroy those who sought to destroy God.

Of course, David participated in his fair share of wickedness. Ultimately he failed to represent the rule and reign of God upon the earth. But Jesus succeeded in every area David failed. Jesus is God’s ultimate appointed king. While he was on the earth he walked in perfect righteousness and obedience. He didn’t steal anyone’s wife, didn’t orchestrate any black ops murder plots. He perfectly represented God’s righteousness.

Now he has been exalted to the highest place in heaven. He is the true, reigning king, and those who commit wicked deeds are waging war against Jesus himself. People who create porn are waging war against Jesus. People who cheat on their spouses are waging war against Jesus. People who promote impurity and unrighteousness wage war against Jesus. People who love money more than Jesus are actually waging war against Jesus. People who teach heresy wage war against Jesus. People who abuse their children are waging war against Jesus.

It is absolutely right for us to pray that God’s justice will be done to the wicked. When God’s justice is done it upholds the dignity and righteousness of King Jesus.

God’s justice will be done to the wicked in one of two ways. Either they will repent of their sins and allow Jesus to bear justice for them or they will bear God’s justice themselves. Either way the justice of God is executed and the righteousness of the King is upheld. We pray the wicked will repent and turn to Jesus for forgiveness. We also pray God will bring justice down upon them if they refuse to repent. We pray God will destroy those who refuse to repent and continue to traffic young girls, corrupt political systems, abuse their children, live for money, relish porn, cuss out their coworkers, and spread rumors.

And when it comes to the “righteousness” Psalms our approach is the same. Only one person is sufficiently righteous to dwell upon God’s holy hill: Jesus. But Jesus doesn’t hoard his righteousness! Rather, he gives us all his righteousness and holiness when we place our trust in him. I can ascend the holy hill of the Lord because Jesus has ascended the hill ahead of me. He has cleared a path for me to follow. I can fully embrace the Psalms of righteousness because I am clothed in the righteousness of Christ.

If the Psalms begin to feel confusing read them through the lens of Christ. Read them as if Christ himself were speaking them. Jesus is the key to unlocking the Psalms. He shines light upon all the dark and confusing places. He is the reigning king who shares his righteousness with those who don’t deserve it.


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