Gerry Can Finally Leave Town

2/29/2008

We’d lost touch with each other over the years.

Gerry had one of the first Beatle haircuts in town and was in “The Legends.” I was in a rival band, “The Signets.” Both were blue-eyed soul bands. The Legends once played a 2-chord instrumental for 3 hours straight on a friend’s front porch. That had to be a Guinness record – In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, the longest song known to man, was only 17 minutes long and they had gone 3 hours! I think that qualifies for canonization. Gerry had one of the nicest guitars of anyone I knew, a blonde Epiphone Casino like John Lennon’s. We were friends in college, drinking beer together and wasting time in the Student Union drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. After college, my life went downhill until Jesus apprehended me. Gerry’s life took a downward turn as well, and he developed agoraphobia. He would have a panic attack every time he’d attempt to leave town. So from sometime in the 70’s, he became a prisoner of our town. He never left again.

Along the way, Gerry and I both got married, had children, and our lives took different directions. A few years later I heard that he got divorced.

Fast forward 25+ years. One day I see him from a distance in Wal-mart. The Lord prompts me to give him a call. I tell him I'd seen him and wondered if he like to get together for coffee. He’s glad to hear from me and anxious to hook up. So we meet at Starbucks a couple days later, two fifty-something guys getting reacquainted after being out of touch for far too long.

I start off by telling Gerry my favorite memory of him. It was the time a friend and I were supposed to meet him at a campus apartment, but we show up an hour late. When we come in, Gerry is sitting at the kitchen table, studying a beer bottle. He looks up at us, takes a drag on his Kool filter and says, “This is the famous Budweiser beer, brewed with the finest hops and malts….” While waiting for us, he has memorized the entire label on a bottle of Bud. That snapshot pretty much captures our lives back then.

Gerry tells me he has cancer. I wouldn’t know it by looking at him, but he tells me that 2 years ago the doctors gave him 2 years after discovering a large tumor in his intestines. He tells me he’s been reading the Bible for a year, which leads to talking about Jesus and his death as a substitute for us. God does something significant that day in our lives. We reestablish our friendship.


For the next year, Gerry and I get together regularly. He comes to our church and some other former friends renew their relationship with him. He meets new friends. Frank becomes a faithful bible study partner, as do Dennis and Tim. Each week they call Gerry and talk about a bible passage. Every Sunday Gerry comes to our church and stands in the back listening to me preach – he’s pretty sick - often in so much pain he can't sit, but he usually makes it through the message before he has to go home and back to bed.

We go out to lunch once a week – I get the salad bar and load up my plate, but all he can eat is a few fries with gravy. He often treats me. Week after week, we talk of Jesus, as Gerry grows more thin and frail. He tells me that he and Frank are reading 1 John and that Jesus has convicted him that he needs to love people. He tells me that for years he has hated many people but now he has decided to forgive everyone who has ever wronged him. He wants to devote his life to Jesus, doing all he can to please him for the rest of his days. He wants to do as much good to as many people as he can.

In these days of suffering, God gives Gerry a gift – painting pictures. He paints every day. Landscapes, boats and Mediterranean seaport scenes. And he gives his paintings away. One hangs in my office.

Fast forward to this past Wednesday evening. I call and his dad answers. “How is your son?” I ask. “We’re in a death watch. Come over and see Gerry.” I get there and see him, lying in the special bed they'd set up for him in the family room. Gerry’s eyes are open, his breathing is shallow, a “death rattle”. I don’t know if he can hear me, but I hold his hand and tell him Jesus loves him, and thank him for being such a good friend. I tell him that nothing can separate him from the love of God in Christ Jesus, and pray for him.

Gerry’s dad and mom are there, grieving, watching their son’s last moments. Then his mom says, “Gerry can finally leave town now.” His agoraphobia is over. He’s leaving town – for heaven. For a face to face appointment with his Savior. I tell Gerry goodbye. “I love you, Gerry. See you soon.”

Gerry left town yesterday at 1 in the morning. I can’t wait to see him again.

Posted by Mark Altrogge at 8:00 AM 12 comments  

Pride and Arrogance 101

2/28/2008


Good morning class, my name is Stephen Altrogge and I'll be your instructor this semester in 'Pride and Arrogance 101'. What qualifies me to teach this class? Well, to put it simply, I've written the book on pride and arrogance. Actually, I did write a book called I'm Better Than You, Deal With It but the publishers couldn't see its brilliance. Fools.

Anyway, you may call me 'Professor Altrogge', or by one of my three nicknames (depending on which country you're from): Sir Incredible, Senior Brilliance, or Monsieur Magnific. I am the country's leading expert on pride and arrogance and I speak out of my vast experience. You should count it a privilege to look up to me. Today we'll be examining the three basic laws of pride and arrogance. Once we master these, we'll move on to bigger and greater things.

The Law of Always Being Right

Law number one is that you are always right on every subject. You must believe this at all times and at all costs, even when there is a vast amount of evidence to the contrary. The simple truth is, you are always right. You know that, and I know that, but not everyone around you knows that. And so you must labor to convince your peers that you hold the correct perspective on every subject. You must win every argument. Don't let your opponents end a discussion believing that they're right. Husbands, if you get into an argument with your wife, don't back down. It's crucial that you establish your position as right and hers as wrong. Don't let silly things like cold, hard, evidence distract you from your main task of being right. Don't let your mind even consider her ideas for a moment, because they're obviously wrong. Take the high road, the 'right' road, if you get my drift (wink, wink). Once you believe that you're always right, you're on the road to excelling in pride and arrogance.

The Law of Criticism

If you're always right, than it's only natural that you regularly criticize those around you. As you can clearly see, any ideas other than your own are absolute rubbish, and worthy of the harshest criticism. Teenagers, don't like the way your parents do things? I can understand why. After all, you've been alive for fifteen years and have a wealth of experience to draw upon. Remember, you're right, no matter how much wisdom and life experience your parents have. So what should you do? Criticize them. If you're going to excel in pride and arrogance, you simply must grow in criticism.

In addition, you must use extra care not to encourage anyone. This may mean turning a blind eye to some of the actions of those around you that would be classified as 'admirable' by lesser folk. If you're going to be proud and arrogant, you must always be looking at and admiring yourself. You simply don't have time to be pointing out nice stuff in other people. Which leads me to my third law of pride and arrogance.

The Law of Self-Admiration

If you're going to be a pride and arrogance expert like me, you must start admiring yourself much more. How does one do this? Simple. Take a few moments and ponder any recent successes you've had. Then take credit for each success. Done well on the job? Played well in a basketball game? Gotten good grades? Seize hold of those and take credit for them. Does it matter that you were born with a brain that does well in school, or a body that can play sports? Of course not! You must take ALL the credit. If you do this, you'll be well on your way to becoming an expert in the field of pride and arrogance.

Unfortunately that's all we've got time for today. I'll be holding office hours from 10-12 if you have anything you would like to talk about. I'm sure we'll agree.

photo by Sarah Jane

Posted by Stephen Altrogge at 8:00 AM 4 comments  

What To Do When You’re Robbed

2/27/2008

Puritan writer Matthew Henry was once robbed by thieves and recorded in his journal:

"Let me be thankful first because I was never robbed before; second, although they took my purse, they did not take my life; third, because, although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, and not someone else."

How could Matthew Henry rejoice after being hijacked? Because he didn’t derive his joy from his circumstances, but he took joy in the God of his salvation.

Paul and Silas freed a slave girl from a spirit of divination that had kept her in bondage for a long time. Deprived of their cash cow, her owners dragged Paul and Silas before the local magistrates and riled up a mob who proceeded to give Paul and Silas a fine Philippian pounding. Then they tossed them into prison, in the inner prison, and fastened their feet in the stocks.


The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them…(Acts 16:22-25)


Paul and Silas are chained up in a filthy Philippian prison and they’re singing!


I’ve never been stripped, beaten, thrown into prison and fastened in stocks. But if I were, I don't know if my first inclination would be to sing “I Just Want to Thank You.” That's not usually the first thought that comes to my mind when the kids put a dent in the car or the back porch ceiling starts leaking.


The reason Paul and Silas could worship in the blockhouse was because they didn’t derive their joy from their circumstances, but took joy in the God of their salvation.

For believers in Christ, the source of our joy is Jesus himself. He's our fountain of life, our chosen portion, our beautiful inheritance. He's our meat and drink. And he never changes, no matter how much our circumstances fluctuate. I once flew from Pittsburgh to Toronto. It was overcast and snowing in Pittsburgh, but when the plane rose above the clouds, the sun was blazing in all its glory. When we descended in Toronto it was grey and snowing again. I had a flash of revelation (that’s right folks, it had never dawned on me until that very moment) – no matter what it’s like “down here” in our circumstances, God is still shining like the sun above the clouds. He’s blazing with goodness and kindness and power and love for us. He hasn’t changed any more than the sun changes when it’s raining.

So where does your joy come from? Does it come from your spouse or your children? Does it come from having a nice home or good job? Do you derive your joy from your health or possessions? What if you should lose them all? Would you be able to rejoice?

If you have not yet called upon the Lord Jesus Christ to save you from your sins, and give you eternal life, I urge you to do so right now. If you do know Jesus, be glad and sing praises, no matter what’s happening “down here” in your life. Rejoice in the God of your salvation.

Posted by Mark Altrogge at 8:00 AM 2 comments  

The Secret Order of the Hidden Servants

2/26/2008


I've come to an interesting, and rather disturbing conclusion regarding myself: I'm not a real big fan of serving in private. I don't want to do acts of service that nobody is going to see. I want to be up front, in the public eye, serving heroically for all to see. I want to be "Mr. Servant Leader Man", who is admired by thousands for his selfless sacrificial serving (try saying that over and over). I don't want to be the guy who is quietly painting a back room in the church, or the guy who faithfully prepares the church budget year after year, or the guy who patiently teaches third graders every Sunday. I want the attention, the glory, the fame of...serving.

At this point some of you are thinking, what a sad little man, and making a mental note to never ask for my help with anything. Pretty ridiculous, isn't it? Actually, it's shameful. In my sinful pride, I want to be recognized for my acts of service. I'm not really interested in God's glory, I'm interested in my own glory. But I want to change. I want to be like John Thornton. Never heard of him? Not surprising. He was a member of "The Secret Order of the Hidden Servants".

Thornton lived from 1720 to 1790, and was absolutely loaded with cash. He was the type of guy who could have done his shopping from the Neiman Marcus catalog, and then actually bought Neiman Marcus. But Thornton refused to live an extravagant life, instead living in a "...simple manner of life [which] left a large surplus out of his income, the chief part of which constantly flowed into the channel[s] of his beneficence." (from William Wilberforce: A Hero For Humanity) In other words, Thornton lived simply so that he could pour money into God-honoring causes.

Thornton paid for Bibles to be printed, and then used his own company ships to send them throughout the world. He gave John Newton an annual allowance of 200 pounds (worth approx. $50,000 today) so that Newton would be free to write songs, books, and be a pastor. He was described as being "plain, frugal, and self-denying in all matters of private expense; and yet liberal in supplying the want of others..."

Do you think many people knew about John Thornton's sacrificial giving? I doubt it. Yet think of the great good that he accomplished. Because of his secret giving, thousands of Bibles went forth throughout the world. Because of his secret support of John Newton, Newton in turn affected the lives of thousands. Thornton was a secret servant whom God used to accomplish great things. Thornton will receive a glorious reward from the Savior on the final day for his acts of secret service.

What about you? Are you content to serve quietly, secretly, and without anyone knowing? Are you happy to serve wherever there's a need, even if you don't get any recognition? I want to be like John Thornton, a happy, quiet, secret servant.

I'm going to sign up to join "The Secret Order of the Hidden Servants".

photo by Peter Morgan

Posted by Stephen Altrogge at 8:00 AM 9 comments  

What To Do When Your Fig Tree Fails

2/25/2008

A friend of mine was saved in his twenties. One day as he was driving through the city where he lived, he happened to see a pretty girl walking down the street (she would later become his wife). He was momentarily distracted and slammed into a parked car. I hate that when that happens! He got out of his car to assess the damage. Inspecting the dents, instead of cursing or complaining he began to say, "So what -- I'm saved! Praise God, I'm saved! I just smashed my car up, but so what -- I'm saved!"

How about you? Do you have the joy of your salvation? If we could only keep our minds on the God of our salvation and the stupendous reality of all he’s done for us we would be celebrating like my friend all day long.

Think about it -- Jesus saved us for an eternity of delighting in his glory and majesty. He saved us to know and enjoy him forever in heaven. He spared us from an eternity of misery in hell. He rescued us from the guilt, punishment, and bondage of sin. He delivered us from fear of judgment and condemnation and seated us with himself in heavenly places. He made us a chosen race, a royal priesthood and a holy nation to proclaim his excellencies. And because he saved us, he will keep us to the end and transform us into his own image.


So ultimately, whatever happens to us in this life doesn't really matter that much because - we're saved.

Habakkuk expressed this beautifully:

Though the fig tree should not blossom,

nor fruit be on the vines,

the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;

I will take joy in the God of my salvation. (Habakkuk 3:17-18)

In Habakkuk's day, if you were a farmer, your whole life depended on your crops and herds. He describes a worst-case scenario: all his crops fail, all his flocks and herds die. Yet he says, even if all this befalls him, "I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation." In other words, so what -- I'm saved!


How this honors God! How it blesses him when we say "Lord, even if you don't bless me in any other way, you alone are enough for me. You have saved me to bring me to yourself. Your glory is all I need. I rejoice in you."


So when the mechanic tells you that you need a new transmission, say, “So what -- I'm saved.” Depending on how well you know him, you might want to consider saying it to yourself quietly. When the children break your favorite Ming Dynasty vase say, "I will rejoice in the Lord." When you come downstairs in the morning to discover that Sparky the Wonder Dog left a little surprise in the middle of the living room carpet, you know what to say. And should you be facing something really serious, I would still encourage you to say along with Habakkuk, "Yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation."

Posted by Mark Altrogge at 8:00 AM 2 comments  

Highlight Reel Updated

2/24/2008

The Blazing Center Highlight Reel is a feature of this blog that lets you explore previous posts that you might not have read. Each of these posts is designed to encourage your faith and point you to the Lord, so if you haven't read these, check them out.

The Permanent Ink of Heaven

Me Versus Paul - Cage Match

4 Symptoms of a Discontented Heart

The Scream of the Damned

How Not to Waste Your Efforts

Posted by Stephen Altrogge at 4:05 PM 0 comments  

Announcements By Mark Altrogge

2/23/2008

Over the past several years my dad has had the privilege of giving announcements at the Sovereign Grace Ministries WorshipGod conferences. My dad is perhaps the greatest announcement giver of all time, but unfortunately he often abuses his powers, such as in this video when he bashes Bob Kauflin.


Posted by Stephen Altrogge at 7:13 AM 5 comments  

Things That Give Me A Bad Feeling

2/22/2008

I get a bad feeling when I:

_See the flashing lights of a police car behind me

_Hear a dentist or barber say "woops"

_Hear someone call me by my first, middle, and last name

_Realize I'm watching a movie that features any of the following actors: Keanu Reeves, Bob Saget, Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah, or anyone that has ever had a part in "Star Trek".

_Receive a phone call from a friend asking, "Where are you?"

I particularly don't like the last one. Why? Because it means that I've let a friend down. I've told someone that I would be somewhere, and then forgot about it. I haven't kept my word. I've made a promise, and then broken it. To all of you that have called me, asking, "Where are you?", I apologize.

I'm so grateful that God isn't like me. He never breaks a promise, and never fails to follow through on His word. His promises are so sure that we can fully rely on them. Listen to the words of Charles Spurgeon:

Our duty to God demands that we accept His promise and act upon it. Every honest man has a right to credence, and much more does the God of truth deserve it. We ought to treat the promise as in itself the substance of the thing promised, just as we look upon a man's check or IOU as an actual payment. God Promises You

It's not enough to just accept the promises of God, we must act upon them. The words of God are so trustworthy that we can stake our very lives upon them. They are worthy of our full and wholehearted trust.

So let's ask ourselves, are we fully trusting the promises of God? Are we acting upon the promises by placing all our faith in the promises? For example:

_God promises to meet all our needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:19). Do we believe that God is going to meet every need that we have, including every spiritual and physical need? Do we exercise faith in this promise even when it seems like there isn't a spare cent in the budget?

_God promises that sin will not be our master (Rom 6:14). Do we fully believe that God is going give us the power to overcome our sin, or do we believe that lie that we'll never grow in godliness?

_God promises to forgive our sins the moment we repent (1 John 1:9). Do we believe that God is eager and willing to forgive our sins, or do we wallow in condemnation?

The promises of God are sure, and they require us to act upon them. We must believe every one with all of our hearts. It's not enough to just know the promises of God. We must act.

I think I hear my phone ringing...

Posted by Stephen Altrogge at 8:00 AM 3 comments  

The Apple of His Eye

2/21/2008

When Christ scans the peoples of the earth, his eyes light up with delight when they rest upon certain people.

Is it the movie stars, or the athletes, or the kings and queens of the earth that thrill Christ’s heart? Is it the successful, the glamorous, the brilliant? John Owen, who definitely would not have made the cover of People Magazine, gives us a clue:


“There is not the meanest (lowliest), the weakest, the poorest believer on earth that Christ does not value more highly than all the world besides” (Communion with God).


The homeliest Christian living in obscurity and poverty is more delightful to Jesus than all the stars of Hollywood or heaven. A toothless, crippled, Christian in a hovel in Sri Lanka is more appealing to Christ than a non-Christian king in a palace. My friend who called upon the Savior last year who now lies on his bed ravaged by cancer, with sunken eyes and cheeks and legs swollen from the tumor in his back is more beautiful to Jesus than a thousand sunsets. More than all the beauty in the world.

Why are believers, even the lowliest, so attractive to Christ? Not because we’re good enough, smart enough, and doggone it God likes us. No, there is nothing in us who are sinful to appeal to God. We who have called on Christ are lovely to him because God has chosen us and given us to Jesus, and Christ has purchased us with his own life. The Father has made us the apple of his eye and his treasured possession because he’s washed us with the blood of Christ, joined us to Christ, clothed us with the righteousness of Christ, and is transforming us into the image of Christ.

We are delightful to Christ because we’re his bride. Even the most stunning seraphim in heaven aren’t clothed in the radiance of Christ the way the poorest believer is.

C.S. Lewis says "It is a serious thing, to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.” – Weight of Glory

Someday believers will be like Christ, for we shall see him as he is (1 JN 3:2). Our new heavenly bodies will be as different from these bodies as a tree is from a seed (1 CO 15:35ff). We simply can’t imagine the beauty of our heavenly bodies. Imagine if you had never seen a tree in your life and I showed you an acorn and said that someday this tiny seed would be majestic, spreading out, and full of thousands of green leaves. You couldn’t imagine it. Paul compares these earthly bodies to seeds that will someday be more glorious than we can imagine.


We’ll look at each other “when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed” (2 TH 1:10), and we’ll see the glory of Christ shining through each other.

So take a second look at your fellow-believer. Even if he or she appears to you to be the dullest and most uninteresting person in the world, remember Christ values them more than all the world. And even if you consider yourself to be insignificant, remember, you are his treasured possession, the apple of his eye.

Posted by Mark Altrogge at 8:00 AM 5 comments  

Mysterious Promises

2/20/2008


His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises... 2 Peter 1:3-4

The promises of God. We say those words all the time. We've got promise books and promise boxes (what exactly is a promise box anyway?). We've got Bible covers with an eagle embroidered on one side and a promise on the other (never was a big fan of Bible covers). But when was the last time you really thought about what it means that "God has promised"?

Have you ever wondered why God gives us promises? God doesn't owe us a single thing. He's the almighty, all-knowing Creator of the universe. He's completely happy in himself, and doesn't need anything or anyone. Our very breath comes from God. And as our creator, God doesn't owe us anything.

In addition to being our creator, God is also our judge. We've rebelled against our creator. We've sinned against God, committing spiritual treason on a cosmic scale. Jeremiah 2:12-13 says, "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." Our treason against God is so perverted that even the heavens are shocked and appalled. Actually, God does owe us something. He owes us wrath.

But in the pages of scripture we find something utterly astonishing: God has promised to do us good. God has promised forgiveness to any who appeal for mercy. God has promised to put his spirit into us, and promised to help us overcome our sin. He has promised to work all things for the good of those who love him, and has promised that he will never leave us or forsake us. In making these promises God has bound himself to do good on our behalf.

Why would God do this? Why would God make unbreakable promises to do good things for me? I've done nothing to deserve such lavish promises. I deserve blistering wrath, instead I receive precious promises. Only a God that is rich in mercy and love would do such a thing.

Let me close with the words of Charles Spurgeon:

Surely it is a wonderful thing that the eternal God would make promises to His own creatures. Before He pledged His word, He was free to do as it pleased Him. After He has made a promise, His truth and honor bind Him to do as He has said.

Posted by Stephen Altrogge at 8:00 AM 0 comments  

Giving Blood

2/19/2008

Dear Diary,

Gave blood today for little Jack T. Lots of people from the church are there serving, giving blood, chatting, laughing. First I fill out a questionnaire about the purity of my blood. Have I taken this drug or that drug, been exposed to AIDS, etc. One question is “Have you ever been born in: Mexico, South America or Central America?” I don’t think I ever was, but I might have been.

After filling out the form, a pleasant lady reviews my questionnaire then leads me to what reminds me of a padded lounge chair with an arm rest. A professional young woman swabs my arm with a brown liquid to sterilize the area where they will insert the needle. Then she removes a new syringe from a package. I’m slightly nervous, but I see an elderly lady giving blood a few feet from me and she seems fine, so I figure if she can do it I can do it. I just don’t want to start screaming like a woman or pass out in front of everybody.

“Little pinch” says the girl and sticks the needle in my arm. It’s definitely more than a pinch, but only lasts about 2 seconds. I lie there comfortably. Mary B. takes a photo of me and others come and poke fun at me, asking if I’m going to make it. After 15 minutes, a young man carefully removes the needle, applies a bandage, seals up the bag of my blood, and instructs me not to have any coffee for the rest of the day. Right. I’m heading to Starbucks as soon as I leave.

Gary D. escorts me to the snack room, ready to catch me should I faint. I cap off my ordeal with a couple glasses of orange juice, a sloppy joe and some kettle-cooked potato chips. Becky, Jack’s mom, thanks me, as do numerous others, and I congratulate myself for my incredible act of heroism.

Dear Diary,

Gave blood today for all those the Father has given me. First, Judas turns me over to angry mob with swords and spears. The disciples all run away. Dragged into a kangaroo court, where false witnesses lie about me, twisting things I’ve said. Hauled before Pilate and Herod, then handed over to Roman soldiers who tie me to a post and whip me over and over with the infamous cat o’ nine tails, with its leather thongs embedded with pieces of bone and metal. My back is completely shredded and my sides, arms, and the backs of my legs are torn to pieces. My face is black and blue and puffy from the soldiers’ fists.

They make a crown from a thorn bush and press it onto my head. Draping a purple cape over my shoulders, they pay mock homage, bowing before me, spitting on me and smacking the crown with reeds, driving it in deeper. Tiring of their fun, they lead me staggering out into the streets carrying a cross.

Noisy crowds, pushing, yelling. I lose my footing and fall beneath the crushing weight of the cross. After a couple falls, I can’t get up. The soldiers force a bystander to carry my cross and they push me through the crowds.

On a hill outside the city, the soldiers stretch me out on the cross and pound spikes into my hands and feet. I think I might pass out from the pain, but I don’t cry out. They lift the cross and it slides into its hole with a terrific jolt - pain shoots through my arms like lightning. I hang there for 6 hours, convulsing with racking pain. My lips are cracked and my throat burns with thirst. I’m suffocating. I push up on the nails in my feet for a few seconds to catch a breath of air, until the pain becomes unbearable in my feet, then I slump down and hang by the nails in my hands and begin suffocating again. People all around are cursing me, laughing at me, shaking their heads.

Worse than all the physical pain - I’m under my Father’s curse – his infinite wrath descends upon me. I’m abandoned by God and man. Desolate. Alone. Infinite misery, despair, grief, sorrow. I plunge into total darkness of soul, the darkness of utter abandonment. I hang between heaven and earth, all alone, for what seems like an eternity, until I’ve no more blood left. A spear pierces my side and a trickle of blood and water drains out. It is finished. I’ve purchased my beloved ones.

Posted by Mark Altrogge at 8:00 AM 9 comments  

Does God Care About Exercise?

2/18/2008

Exercise is one of those subjects that seems to divide people into three groups. First, there's the health nuts, whose idea of a good time is strapping on a backpack full of bricks and doing wind sprints up steep hills. Then there's the couch potatoes, whose idea of a good time is a bag of chips, an industrial sized tub of French onion dip, and a king sized Slurpee. Then there's the rest of us, who know we should exercise, and even own several pieces of exercise equipment, but never quite find the time to do it.

Everywhere you look, people are telling us we should exercise. But does God care about exercise? Does it really matter to God if I step onto my treadmill?

Nowhere in the Bible will you find a scripture that says, "You must exercise three times a week ( and make sure one of those days is a good cardio work out)." But we do read in 1 Corinthians 10:31, "So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." Every minute of our lives is to be lived for the glory of God, and exercise is a wonderful means of helping us live for the glory of God. How? By extending our years of service to God, and by making us more effective in serving the Lord.

Exercise Extends Our Years of Serving God

Have you ever considered that exercise could be the difference between serving God for 60 years or serving God for 75 years? Think about this for a moment. Maintaining a healthy body could result in God giving you many additional years to care for your spouse. Staying in good shape could result in God allowing you to share the gospel with hundreds of additional people. Those endless miles on the treadmill could result in many additional years of faithfully serving your church. Yes, I understand that God has numbered our days. In his sovereignty, God knows exactly how many days we will live upon this earth. But God uses means, and exercise is a means of adding years of fruitful labor to our lives.

Exercise Makes Us More Effective In Serving The Lord

Not only does exercise extend our years of serving the Lord, it also makes us more effective in serving the Lord. The truth is, an unhealthy body can limit our capacity to serve the Lord. Being unhealthy leads to less energy and less stamina, which ultimately limits our service for the Lord. Those who exercise regularly and are in good health are able to serve the Lord and others consistently, and for longer periods of time.

Charles Spurgeon said, "A mouthful of sea air, or a stiff walk in the wind's face would not give grace to the soul, but it would yield oxygen to the body, which is next best"

These truths should dramatically affect our approach to exercise! We don't ultimately exercise for the purpose of losing weight or so that we look good. We exercise for the glory of God. We lace up our running shoes and pound the pavement so that we can serve God effectively for years to come. We lift weights so that at age 65 we can share the gospel with our grandchildren. We go to the gym so that we can lovingly care for our spouse for many years.

So let me encourage you to exercise. Not because it's a good thing to do, but because God's glory is at stake. Think of the future as you go out and jog today.

photo by kk+

Posted by Stephen Altrogge at 8:00 AM 14 comments  

Highlight Reel Updated

2/16/2008

The Blazing Center Highlight Reel is a feature of this blog that lets you explore previous posts that you might not have read. Each of these posts is designed to encourage your faith and point you to the Lord, so if you haven't read these, check them out.

How To Survive An Elephant Stampede

Waiting In Pain

Never Feel Condemned

Does God Hear My Baby?

God, The Stars, and Your Hair

Posted by Stephen Altrogge at 8:30 AM 0 comments  

Hope for Sin-stained Worshipers

2/15/2008

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 2:4-5

Scenario 1: Sunday morning you come into the meeting to sing to the Lord together with the saints. You've already had a conflict with your wife, spoken harshly to your kids and complained about the pothole in the parking lot. And when you get to your usual row there's a college kid with azure blue hair sitting in your seat.

The first song begins and you begin to clap, noticing the worship leader is wearing tennis shoes and his shirt is untucked. Didn't that kid's father teach him anything about how to dress on Sunday? And he's leading us in worship!

You begin to sing "Sing praise to the Lord, our God and King, his love endures forever..." and a few drops of joy begin to trickle into your heart. You close your eyes and lift your hands. God is so good and loving.

Then your 13-year old son walks in front of you and heads toward the back of the room. You whisper to your wife, "Where's he going?" "To the bathroom," she answers. A wave of irritation washes over you. "Why didn't he go at home?"

Suddenly you realize you haven't been singing for the last 2 minutes. You try to get back into it, but, wow are those drums loud! Can't they do anything about that? Oh Lord, forgive me, now where was I? "His love endures forever..."

Sound familiar?

Scenario 2: Doreen, the skinny, unkempt, tooth-missing, slightly smelly lady who's always asking you for money runs into you at the store and asks if you can help her out. You knew this was coming when you saw her. So pulling out a $20 bill, you place it, half sincerely, half reluctantly, into her greasy hand. You'd like to give freely as unto the Lord, but you know your heart isn't 100% into it. Suddenly, Bill from church walks by, spying you slipping the bill into Doreen's hand. You whisper a secret "Yes!" as you imagine Bill telling others, "What a guy he is - I saw him giving that poor woman money." You imagine your photo on the cover of "Godly People" Magazine, with the caption, "The Most Generous Man Alive" next to your face.

Romans 12 tells us that for believers in Christ, everything we do is an offering of worship to God, whether we're doing something we would think of as "spiritual," like praying or serving in Children's Ministry, or cooking dinner or working on a spread sheet. But our spiritual sacrifices are so pathetic, so blighted by sin - how can the Lord accept them? Our praying and singing is often distracted. Our acts of service and mercy are often flavored with self-glorification.

So how can our sacrifices be acceptable to God?

The key is that our acts of worship are "acceptable to God THROUGH Jesus." He is the Mediator between God and man, our great High Priest. This means that Jesus takes our flawed and sin-stained offerings, washes them with his blood, and presents them to the Father as perfect.

Without our Mediator our sacrifices wouldn't be fit for an angel, let alone the Holy One whose eyes are too pure to look upon sin. But through Christ, the Father receives our acts of worship with pleasure and delight.

Let's praise God today for his glorious Son! Let's offer him our lives today as his priests made holy by the blood of Christ. And thank God for the kid with the blue hair.

Posted by Mark Altrogge at 8:00 AM 5 comments  

C.J. Mahaney Asks If You Spin Plates

2/14/2008

As part of the C.J. Mahaney project, I'm attempting to listen to all of C.J's messages that are available online and pull out the humorous illustrations. As I've noted before, C.J. uses humor to wonderfully illustrate the points in his message. In this hilarious story, C.J. Mahaney compares a legalist to someone that is constantly spinning plates. To download the story click here. You can download the sermon by clicking here.


Posted by Stephen Altrogge at 7:20 PM 2 comments  

3 Things That Make Me Happy On Valentine's Day

Today we join the world in celebrating the holiday of love. Cards with messages like, "You melt my heart like a box of chocolates left in a trunk on a hot summer's day," will be exchanged. Young couples will sit across from each other in fancy restaurants and call each other sweet nicknames like "shnooky wookums", and "oogly bear". Young men will take out small loans to purchase a dozen roses for their sweethearts, and old men will put their teeth back in to kiss their wives. Today is Valentine's Day.

At this point you're probably wondering if there is any point to this post. I assure you, I have not overdosed on Russell Stover chocolates - there is a point. So without any sort of smooth transition, I will bring you immediately to the point: Our relationship with God is the foundation for a happy Valentine's Day.

As I consider Valentine's Day, I'm grateful for three things:

God Is My Joy, Not People

In the world's eyes, Valentine's Day is all about celebrating a special relationship with a special someone. Those that don't have a special someone are left out in the cold to feel sorry for themselves. According to the world, you can't be happy if you're single.

But the glorious news of the Bible is that people don't bring us true joy. Our satisfaction is found in knowing and delighting in God Himself. If you are looking for true joy outside of your relationship with Christ, you're chasing the wind.

As one who was recently married, let me speak to those who are single. Being married will never satisfy you. I love my wife Jen with all my heart. I love being married to her and can't imagine life without her. But she doesn't ultimately satisfy me, and I don't satisfy her. Why? Because we were made to be satisfied in God. Psalm 16:11 says, "You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore." Fullness of joy is found in loving God and delighting in his presence. Today, will you find your joy in God?

I'm Grateful For the Gospel

The gospel is what makes joyful, God-glorifying relationships possible. Apart from the transforming power of the gospel, my marriage wouldn't make it. I'm too selfish and too proud to love Jen as Christ loved the church. I love my own comfort too much to lay my life down for her. Titus 3:3 says, "For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another." Apart from the gospel I would be a mess.

But the power of God is now at work in me, slowly shaping me into a godly husband and Jen into a godly wife. Yes, I still have miles to go when it comes to being a godly husband. I'm still very selfish. I still love my own comfort. I haven't quite mastered that mysterious thing called "communication". But I have great hope for my marriage, not because of my power, but because of God's power. The gospel is what makes a happy relationship possible. Today, thank God for the gospel!

I'm Grateful For My Wife

Without a doubt, I have the best wife in the universe. Proverbs 31:10 says, "An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels." Jen is the crown jewels of the Altrogge household. She serves me tirelessly, cares for our daughter joyfully, and brings me great joy. She truly is a gift from God to me. To say that I am blessed is a colossal understatement. I'm a rich man.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got some chocolate to eat.

Posted by Stephen Altrogge at 8:00 AM 0 comments  

Strong Hand God

2/13/2008

EX 13.14 And when in time to come your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ you shall say to him, ‘By a strong hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery.

It is no easy thing to save a sinner in his rebellion against God.

Think of all that the Lord must overcome when he draws us:

Satan: Until we’re born again, the prince of the powers of the air holds us captive. Though we are not necessarily “possessed,” we are slaves of Satan. Jesus described the devil as a strong man guarding his palace, who fights tooth-and-nail to keep his prisoners. Only a Stronger Man is able to overcome Satan’s deception and enslaving power to set the captives free.

Sin: We are born “in sin,” infected with the moral disease inherited from Adam. Sin incites us to commit sins, enslaves our wills and is far too strong for any of us to escape on our own, no matter how many times we tell ourselves I'm good enough, I'm smart enough and doggone it, people like me. God must not only break our slavery to sin but our love of it.

Our flesh: Our fallen human nature apart from God. The Bible says our flesh cannot please God, has no taste for God, and is at enmity with God. Our flesh resists God at every turn – it produces doubts, excuses and reasons to reject God faster than Apple puts out iPods. And our flesh loves and craves everything but God.

Unbelief: Until God gives us the gift of faith, we will never on our own believe in Christ. We love darkness. Our unbelief is willful and stubborn.


Blindness: Before we're born again we can’t see God's kingdom or Christ's beauty.

Spiritual deadness: Before Christ we’re not just sick, but dead - flat-lined - no spiritual heartbeat.

No
fear of the Lord: We tell ourselves either there is no God, or he doesn't see or doesn't care about our sins.

Defective consciences: Sin, like a monkey wrench thrown into a machine, distorts our consciences. Before Christ, I knew it was wrong to steal. Yet I lusted, lied, got drunk and did drugs with no compunction. My conscience didn't fire on all cylinders. I even swore when I prayed.

What power God exerted to bring us to himself! Salvation is humanly impossible. We could no more have overcome Satan, sin, our flesh, blindness, dead hearts, unbelief and God-hate than squeeze a camel through a needle's eye. We could never have created in ourselves a love and delight in Christ. God removed our hearts of stone and gave us hearts of flesh. He changed us from garbage-lovers to Jesus-relishers. Revelation’s Warrior came conquering and made us trophies of his grace.

How mighty is God's strong hand! How unstoppable his grace! Praise God, for by this same strong hand he will transform us into his own likeness and keep us to the end. No one will snatch us out of Christ's strong hand. If he so powerfully saved us he will surely strengthen, protect and deliver us. Put your hope in Heaven's Warrior to fight for you. Put your hope in our Strong Hand God.

Posted by Mark Altrogge at 8:00 AM 4 comments  

7 Tough Questions To Ask Your Friends

2/12/2008


Last week I wrote a post saying that godly friends ask tough, heart-exposing questions of each other for the purpose of pointing each other towards Christ. In that post I gave a few examples of what these questions might look like.

One reader asked if I had a list of other tough questions to ask your friends. Unfortunately, I don't have a set list of probing, heart-exposing questions that I ask my friends, but I can give you suggestions for questions you might ask. This is not an exhaustive list, it's simply meant to get you started in the right direction. And I must point out, these questions aren't one-sided. You should be inviting your friends to ask these same questions of you. So without further ado, here's my "awkward questions" list.

_Have you been consistently pursuing the Lord through scripture reading and prayer?

Above anything else, I want to make sure that my friends are faithfully pursuing the Lord. If there is a deficiency in reading scripture and prayer, there will be a deficiency in their relationship with the Lord.

_Have you diligently pursued your wife/husband this week?

This questions applies to married folks only. Our relationship with our spouse is our second most important relationship after the Lord. If I'm not diligently investing in my relationship with my wife, there's a problem.

_Have you seen any persistent patterns of sin in your life recently?

Sin usually isn't an isolated event. The same sin usually occurs multiple times in different contexts. It's crucial that we help each other identify patterns of sin.

_Last week you confessed struggling with [insert sin]. Have you taken steps to fight it this week?

It's not enough to just confess sin. We want to help each other actively fight against the sin that we confess.

_When you gave into [insert sin], what were you believing about God in that moment? What were you believing about yourself?

Sin is the result of believing lies about God and about ourselves. We sin in worry because we believe that God isn't taking care of us. We sin in lust because we believe that it will satisfy us more than God. We sin in anger because we feel that our "rights" have been violated. Sin is the result of believing lies.

_What is the truth that you need to believe in this situation?

We fight against the lies of sin by believing scriptural truth. We must help each other see how scripture applies to every area of our lives.

_When you had the conflict with [insert person], what were you craving at that moment?

Scripture tells that conflict is the result of cravings. James 4:1-2 says, "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." Cravings underlie conflict.

Hopefully these questions get you going in the right direction. Let there be awkward questions!

Posted by Stephen Altrogge at 8:00 AM 3 comments  

Another Free Scripture Song

Well folks, it's that time of week again. Time for yet another free scripture song. Our board of directors says that we're crazy for giving away all this stuff, but we don't listen. We were born to be wild.

So we now present you with 1 Corinthians 2:1-2 for your listening pleasure. Click here to download the song.

As usual, please pass this along to all your friends!

In case you missed the other downloads, you can get them here.

Update: Just for clarification, we don't really have a board of directors! In fact, we're not interested in running a high profit business, we just want people to love scripture. Enjoy the free download!

Posted by Stephen Altrogge at 7:58 AM 4 comments  

Bitter to Sweet

2/11/2008

I love how the Lord provides for his people in unexpected ways.

Peter doesn't know where the cash will come from to pay the temple tax, so Jesus tells him to go fishing. He pulls out a fish with a gold coin in its mouth.
Another time the disciples tell Jesus to send the crowds away so they can go into the local towns and grab some food. But Jesus comes out of left field again and turns a few fish and rolls into a picnic for thousands.

Three days after the Israelites watch God split the Red Sea and engulf the Egyptian army, they come to a place called Marah (Ex 15:22). Three days and they have yet to find any water. Their lips are cracked and their throats parched. So when they see desert sun glinting on water their hopes soar. But when they run to taste it, it's brackish. It's obviously Moses' fault. He should have done a Google search for the nearest pure watering hole before leaving Egypt. "Hey miracle man, what are we going to drink?" they gripe. They were obviously suffering short term memory loss. Hadn't God miraculously saved them from Pharaoh just 3 days earlier? How often our first response to any trial is to grumble and plunge into instant unbelief.

Moses does the wisest thing to do when in trouble - he cries out to the Lord. Immediately, God
shows Moses a log, or tree (ESV footnote). Moses takes the tree, tosses it into the filthy water, and it becomes not merely drinkable, but sweet!

Approximately 1500
years later God again unexpectedly provides for his people by a tree. When our lives are bitter and brackish with sin, when there is no earthly way to cleanse our putrid souls, God takes his sinless Son and nails him to a tree. A Roman cross, drenched in the blood of Jesus, makes our bitter lives sweet.

"Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree'” (Ga. 3:13).


Obviously, it isn't the Roman cross that sweetened our lives, but the One nailed to the tree, taking our bitter curse so he could give us his sweet forgiveness and peace. Praise God for his unsearchable wisdom and unexpected salvation! Praise Jesus for immersing himself in our polluted world and by his death giving us life and sweetness and light.

Posted by Mark Altrogge at 8:00 AM 2 comments  

Highlight Reel Updated

2/09/2008

The Blazing Center Highlight Reel gives you a chance to read old posts that you might have missed. Each post is designed to point your heart to God, so check these posts out if you haven't read them before.

What To Do When You Cast Out A Demon

I Thought My Bladder Might Explode

When God Doesn't Dry My Tears

The Secret That Will Change Your Life

The Dying Trust The Dying

Posted by Stephen Altrogge at 5:30 PM 4 comments  

My Friends Are So Awkward

2/08/2008

On most Friday mornings my alarm rips me out of my golden slumbers at approximately 6:03 A.M. I stumble out of bed, get dressed in complete darkness, and emerge from my bedroom wearing an outfit that makes it look as though a thumb-less monkey dressed me. I then make the sleepy drive over to Starbucks, where I meet several of the guys from my small group. We then spend the next ninety minutes asking each other painfully awkward questions, such as:

_Have you had any conflicts with your wife lately?
_Have you been diligent in your pursuit of the Lord?
_What has been your biggest struggle lately?

What would lead any sane person to take part in such a fun early-morning activity? The truth that godly friends ask tough questions.

Hebrews 3:13 says, " But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." Godly friends exhort one another to pursue godliness. They ask tough, awkward, probing questions that dig deep into the heart and expose sinful desires. Truly godly friends aren't afraid to get down and dirty.

Why do godly friends exhort each other? Why do my godly friends ask me tough questions about my struggles with sin? Because they care for me, and they don't want me to be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

Sin is deceitful, and many times we fail to see our sin accurately. For example, I recently confessed to the guys in my small group that I had been struggling with worry. Thanks to their insightful, and awkward questions, they were able to help me see that my sin went deeper than just worry. I was failing to trust God, and I was being self-sufficient. Their exhortation helped me to see my sin as it truly was. Godly friends help each other see their sin accurately by asking tough questions.

Are you a godly friend? Do you ask your friends about their struggles with sin? Do you exhort them towards godliness? On the flip side, do you invite your friends to ask you the awkward questions? Be a godly friend and ask the tough questions.

Posted by Stephen Altrogge at 8:00 AM 4 comments  

Saturn was Singing

2/07/2008

"The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork" (Psalm 19:1).

Christ is the heir of all things, and to the praise of his glory, he uses all he possesses, including the heavens, to do good to us.
He uses the glories of the skies to reveal his majesty for our astonishment and enjoyment.


My son Jonathan has a pretty decent telescope. One night not long ago he called me over to look at a tiny twinkling light in the sky he'd focused on. When I looked into the telescope, to my astonishment there was Saturn. A perfectly clear white ball with white rings encircling it. I was stunned. I wasn't looking at a picture of Saturn - I was looking at Saturn itself hanging there in firmament.

Being a full-service blog, we provide the following facts about Saturn for your amazement:


--Saturn's equatorial diameter is 74,130 miles. Earth's is 7,926 miles.


--It takes 29.5 Earth years for Saturn to revolve around the Sun. This means in my entire lifetime Saturn has only been around the Sun once (well, it's getting close to twice).


--Saturn's mass is 95.2 times that of Earth, yet it rotates on it's axis approximately every 10 hours and 15 minutes - it's spinning more than twice as fast as we are.


--Saturn's minimum distance from Earth is 746 million miles - that means Saturn is more than 7 times further away from us than the sun (the Sun is a mere 91 million miles from the earth).


--The average surface temperature is -300F. Think about this next time you have to start the car on a frigid morning - you could be on Saturn.


--750 Earths could fit inside a hollowed-out Saturn - that's right - 750, and 1600 Saturns could fit into the Sun.


--The rings of Saturn are composed of particles of ice but may include ice-covered rock particles. The size of the particles ranges from the width of a paper clip to a yard to some possibly 6 city blocks long.


I was gazing across 750 million miles of space at a ball that would hold 750 earths, surrounded by perfect rings composed of ice chunks. Saturn was singing to me of the glory of God. Saturn was singing "How majestic is my Creator! How glorious and astounding and marvelous are all his works." Saturn was singing, "Look at me! God created me and my rings and hung us in the sky. All he had to do was speak and I stood forth. And Christ is still upholding me and Jupiter and The Andromeda Galaxy, the Milky Way and the earth by his powerful Word. How awesome is God!"


When I gazed at Saturn, I caught a tiny glimpse of the glory of God. And all I could do was praise him. The heavens declare his glory. Next time you're out on a clear star-studded night, look up. And worship God for his glory.

photo:
NASA

Posted by Mark Altrogge at 8:00 AM 4 comments  

When My Friends Wound Me

2/06/2008

"Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy." - Proverbs 27:6

I've never been a big fan of Proverbs 27:6. Now, before any of you readers go Phineas on me (see Numbers 25) and ram a spear through my stomach, let me explain.

Correction has never been something I've particularly enjoyed. If you come up to me and say, "Stephen, I think you might have sinned in this area," you're not going to see me leap into the air and click my heels for joy (is it actually possible to 'click' your heels?). Correction is painful for me. I don't like it when my friends point out areas of sin in my life. I don't get a warm, fuzzy feeling inside when someone asks me, "Stephen, it seemed like you were angry on the basketball court. What was going on there?" When my friends correct me, it really does feel like a wound of sorts.

But the truth is, I desperately need the correction of my friends. I need the 'faithful wounds' of those around me. Why? Because I'm blind to my sin. There are pockets of sin in my life that I simply won't see apart from the correction of others. Sanctification is a group project, and I need the input of others into my life.

Have you ever started to switch lanes while driving, only to notice at the last second that a car is lurking in your blind spot? Yeah, you know the feeling. It takes everything in you not to let out a high-pitched, banshee-like scream of terror. We've got blind spiritual blind spots as well, and we need the faithful correction of friends to open our eyes.

This means that godly friends will correct one another. If you truly care about your friends, you will gently correct them when they fall into sin. Correcting someone isn't pleasant, but it's essential. If we are help others grow in godliness, we will gently correct them when they sin.

This also means that we should invite correction. We desperately need the correction of our godly friends. We simply won't grow as God intends apart from the faithful wounds of our friends. We must invite the correction of others.

Do you need to gently correct a friend that has fallen into sin? Or, do you need to invite the correction of others? Be a faithful friend - go out and wound someone.

Posted by Stephen Altrogge at 8:00 AM 7 comments  

Expand Your Prayer Life (6) Crouching at Your Door

2/05/2008

When I was 23, I worked in an art gallery in Philadelphia. I lived in an apartment in the corner of the dimly lit cockroach-infested bowels of a large, old apartment building. The only other apartment near me was occupied by a small time thug who occasionally asked me if I'd like a new (stolen) TV, or if I'd mind keeping his gun in my place for a few days (no thanks). When coming home to my apartment, I was always afraid that someone would lurch out of the shadows in the basement and stab me.

I had 3 locks on my door.

One evening after work, when I opened the door my blood ran cold. There on top of my couch sat a gigantic cat. It leapt from the couch like a banshee and rocketed past me into the shadows of the basement. Heart pounding, I locked the door behind me. How did this demonic specter get into my apartment?

The next morning after unlatching my 3 locks, I opened the inside door and was about to open the outer door, which had slats, much like a window shutter. Glancing down I saw a dark shape the size of a large groundhog. It was the tomcat, crouching, patiently waiting to dart in when I opened the door...


Sin and temptation are always lurking at the door, waiting for an opportunity to pounce on us. God told Cain "...sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it." (Genesis 4:7)


That's why Jesus told us to pray regularly, "Lead us not into temptation" (Luke 11:4).

When we pray this, we are confessing our weakness to God. We are saying, "Father, I am so prone to sin, I’m asking that you would spare me from being tempted. You know how weak I am. Please don't even let me be exposed to temptation. Please keep me from falling into sin. Please deliver me from the snares of the enemy.”

Don't ever underestimate the power of sin to tempt and entrap you. Don't ever think you are incapable of falling into certain sins. Don’t ever look down on someone else who has fallen into sin and say I would never do that. Apart from God’s grace, we are all capable of any sin. We are prone to wander.


Adam and Eve had no sin nature, no inward tendency to sin, yet they gave in to Satan's enticements. The great serpent has been studying the human race for thousands of years. He knows every trick in the book. He knows every chink in our armor and where we are most prone to sin. Do you think you are smarter than him?


The hymn Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing aptly describes our vulnerability to sin:


O to grace how great a debtor

Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

We are prone to wander from the God we love. So we must regularly pray "lead us not into temptation."

But not only should we pray for ourselves, but for others.
Jesus used the plural in his teaching: "Lead US not into temptation." So pray for others. If you're married, ask the Lord to deliver your spouse and children from temptation and sin. Ask God to deliver your pastors from temptation. Ask him to keep them humble and pure. Pray for fellow believers.

In case you are wondering what happened to the cat...

I went to the kitchen, got a large glass of water, then pitched it through the slats of the outer door, drenching him. He screeched like the Wicked Witch of the West, then tore off. But he was back again the next morning, crouching, waiting. After about 4 days of cold showers, I didn't see him again. But from then on, I always checked for him before opening the door.

Posted by Mark Altrogge at 8:00 AM 4 comments  

Are You A Godly Friend?

2/04/2008


There's a bumper sticker that says "Friends don't let friends buy Starbucks". Let me just say from the outset that I consider this to be utter nonsense, equivalent to giving Keanu Reeves an Oscar. If you are my friend you will buy me Starbucks. You don't need to buy me anything fancy, like a half-caf, double-soy, triple shot latte - just a cup of coffee. Friends do let friends buy Starbucks.

Unfortunately I can't back this statement up from scripture, much as I want to. But the Bible is very clear about what friends should do for each other. In scripture we find a clear picture of what it means to be a godly friend. So this week we're going to try to answer the question, "What is a godly friend?" By God's grace, our fellowship will deepen and our friendships will honor the Lord.

Friends Encourage One Another
Today we're going to look at just one aspect of godly friendships - encouragement. Ephesians 4:29 says, "Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear." The point of this passage is pretty simple. A godly friend is one who encourages others.

I find it much easier to criticize people than encourage them. In my sinful pride, I criticize far more than I encourage. This is our natural, sinful tendency, and our culture only encourages this tendency. Have you ever noticed how many "critics" there are? We have movie critics, food critics, wine critics, sports critics, and politics critics. When was the last time you heard of a "movie encourager"? The sad fact is, we love to criticize others.

But scripture makes it clear that a godly friend is one who encourages others. We're told that our speech should build others up, and give grace to those who hear. Ponder this truth with me for a minute. Our words can be used by God to impart supernatural grace to others. Our words can be used by God to build someone up in their faith. The words that we speak are immensely significant. They can either corrupt or build up. We must speak words that build others up. We must encourage.

What does it look like to encourage others? Speech that builds others up is speech that highlights where God is at work. In other words, to encourage others is to point out the fruit of the spirit in others. It's to encourage John, who humbly serves in children's ministry week after week, or Carol, who joyfully cares for her aging mother. It's to encourage your wife when she is patient with your son, even after he pounded 117 nails into the coffee table. To encourage is to highlight the fruit of the Spirit in someone.

Are you a godly friend? Do you encourage others? When was the last time you encouraged someone? This is an area I desperately need to grow in. By God's grace, let us resolve to encourage someone today.

Posted by Stephen Altrogge at 8:00 AM 2 comments  

I've Been Tagged

2/02/2008

Okay, so there's this thing in the blog world called "tagging" people with a "meme". Now first of all, I have no idea what a meme is. Does it mean "me me", as in I'm supposed to tell you all about me? I think it must because the point of the "meme" is that I'm supposed to tell you seven things about myself. So without further ado, here are seven things you should know about me. Buckle your seat belts folks cause this is going to be a wild ride.

Numero Uno (Spanish for number one) - If you look in the Guinness Book of World Records under "The Best Wife Ever" you'll find a picture of my wife Jen. I've been married to Jen since November 4, 2006, and it has been the best year and a half of my life. She is a gift from God to me, and I can't imagine my life without her. If you look under "Cutest Baby Ever" you'll find a picture of my daughter Charis. Charis is almost five months old, and she melts your heart.

Number Two (English for number two) - I like coffee. Well, that's actually a bit of an understatement. I love coffee. I drink coffee because it tastes like a small piece of heaven, and it gives you that extra boost of energy when you need it the most. I believe that a biblical case can be made that coffee is the only thing on earth not affected by the fall.

Letter C - I like video games. Yes, I realize that this makes me sound like a massive dork who wears the same t-shirt for three months and lives with his parents. But that's not true. I change my shirt at least once a week. Here's a shout out to all of you who know what the following words really mean: covenant, spartan, Master Chief, flood. Who's the dork now?

Number 4 - I like to write songs. I've written songs that have been on a variety of Sovereign Grace Music projects, and I recently had the privilege of recording an album with my dad. I've written a few songs that you might recognize, such as "Feliz Navidad", "The Alphabet Song", "Beat It", and "Handel's Messiah".

Fiver - I'm a big sports fan. The Pittsburgh Steelers are my team. We like to wave our "Terrible Towels" and talk about the big game that "we" won, and how "we" are the best. And we don't like Tom Brady...at all.

6. I recently created my first Facebook profile. What does one do with a Facebook profile? I have no idea. I think you're supposed to send messages to your friends like "Hey man, what's up?", and "Hey we should get together sometime." Oh yeah, and you're supposed to always update your status so that people know what you're doing. Any help on this one?

Ocho (That's Spanish for eig...hey wait a minute) - I secretly wish that I was Aragorn from the Lord of the Rings. Or Gandalf. Let's just say that I would be the center of attention at most parties.

Alright, that's enough from me. You now know far more about me than you ever wanted. Visit my Facebook profile and send me a deep, thoughtful, and profound message.

Posted by Stephen Altrogge at 8:00 AM 10 comments  

Expand Your prayer life (5): The Path to Joy

2/01/2008

Last week one of my sons didn't clean up his room. So I kicked him out of the family.

"Get out, and don't come back!" I shouted as I slammed the door. "That's the last time you'll skip your chores around here!" I fumed.


Just kidding. Please don't call the authorities and have me arrested.

When my children fail in some way or sin against me, I don't eject them from the family. That will never happen. But their offenses can strain our fellowship until they ask forgiveness. That's why Jesus taught us in "The Lord's Prayer" that we should pray: "And forgive us our sins..."(Luke 11:4).

But didn't Christ pay for all believers' sins on the cross? Yes, but he still tells us we should regularly ask our Father to forgive us.


If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9


God has adopted us who come to Him through Christ into his family and will never cast us out. But sin mars our fellowship with him. When we confess our sins, God cleanses us afresh by the blood of Christ and removes all unrighteousness, thus restoring our fellowship. Sin is like bugs and dirt on our windshield – it hinders our vision. When we confess our sins, God wipes the windshield clean and we can see him more clearly.


Not only did Jesus instruct us to ask our Father to forgive us, he commands that we forgive others as well: "And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us" (Luke 11:4).


Have you ever been offended at anyone? You know how it is when someone insults you or treats you unjustly. Sometimes you can't stop your mind from churning and rehearsing and replaying the event. "I should have said this. I should have done that. I'm going to buy a book of insulting comebacks. I'm going to study Winston Churchill's witty put downs. Next time I see them I'll say, "Oh yeah? In your face!"

But Jesus said, "For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matthew 6:14-15). Forgiving others, even our enemies, is not an option.

Why? Because God has forgiven us our sins against him, which are worse than anyone's sins against us. He's forgiven us a million dollar debt, so we should forgive the one who owes us $5. If we don’t have a heart to forgive others, why should we expect God to forgive us?

But what if someone commits an enormous sin against me?

What helps me is to remember that I murdered Christ. I spit in the face of the infinitely Holy God. I rejected my loving Creator. For my sins to be forgiven it required God's Son to be bloodied and beaten. My sins brought God's wrath upon Jesus' head. No one’s sins against me are that bad.
I deserve to be sinned against, then go to hell for eternity. No matter what anyone does to me, I’ve done worse to God.

So when you are praying and you remember someone has sinned against you, forgive them. You may need to ask God for grace to do this. But you have no other option. Though that person's crime against you returns every 5 minutes like a deer fly buzzing around your head, affirm your forgiveness. Pray again, "Father, in Jesus' name I forgive them! " Even if you have forgive 50 times a day, keep forgiving.

Has someone offended you? Do you need to forgive someone? Ask God to forgive them right now. It's the path to Christ's joy.

Posted by Mark Altrogge at 8:00 AM 4 comments